Institutional Fit

To better understand the student experience, navigate across these themes to hear from students who have shared their stories with us.

Institutional Fits

As a student begins to interact with a school, they begin to assess how the institution "fits" their needs. Fit includes a variety of dimensions; the alignment of expectations about a school’s teaching philosophy, fit with life needs and a student’s learning style preferences. How a school is funded fundamentally influences what a school offers, how they offer it and their ability to be responsive to individual student needs.

Rebecca, Not in School
Rebecca was very frustrated to discover that her college experience did not match her expectations for teaching philosophy and community. Rebecca sought a vibrant artist community but never toured the school to check out what it was really like, even though it was only hours away. She chose it because of the financial aid package but found that even without having to pay tuition, it was not worth it for her to stay in school.

institutional fit

Finding the right school environment can be tough. Fitting in can be even tougher. Many of the students we worked with talked candidly about feeling isolated and alone, unsure of where to get help, and confused about how to make the most of their educational experience. Read more


Many students join an institution with expectations about what a "school should be like," particularly as it relates to teaching style, academic content, campus culture, and extracurricular activities. In cases where there is a strong lack of alignment between expectations and actual experience, students may feel increasingly isolated and become disillusioned if the experience is not what they expected.

Grace, Undergraduate Student
Grace was very disappointed to discover that her college experience did not match her expectations around teaching philosophy and community.

Finding the Right Fit

Does a school teach the way a student learns? Is the course work complimentary to a student's professional and personal goals? Finding the right fit is important for all students, especially for students who are juggling work and family responsibilities alongside school. Issues such as day care, class scheduling and whether the right classes are offered at the right time become important factors in degree attainment. These needs can (and do) change suddenly. Does an institution have the ability to be flexible and accommodate these changes? Are the right resources aligned at the right time to support a student's unique trajectory? These are the questions students report asking, especially after the initial enthusiasm of entering a school wears off.

Kim, Undergraduate Student
Kim describes the necessity of matching school resources with her career goals.

Liz, Undergraduate Student
Liz doesn't find value in some of her required classes and would prefer to “get them over with” online.

“I came [to community college] to bring up my GPA and work on things. I’m glad I went here because I would have like wasted a lot of money not knowing what I wanted to do,” Zahra, Community College Student

Students as Customers

Students are sometimes surprised to discover that a school does not meet their needs as they imagined it would. Operating realities make it nearly impossible for schools to cater to individual students. Students must work to find "do-it-yourself" solutions that align school offerings with needs. The importance a school places on accommodating unique student preferences varies depending on how they compete (e.g., size, cost, ranking, location, etc.). For profit private schools, such as technical training schools, tend to be more accommodating because they are more likely to think of students as customers with valuable purchasing power. They will have more locations, students can move between locations seamlessly, and offer more evening, weekend and on-line courses. In comparison, traditional four-year institutions compete more on rankings and intangibles, like prestige, and draw more revenue from non-tuition-related sources, and therefore are less likely to see students as customers.

“One of the things you learn is that school after high school is a business and not your right.” Phil,

Kristen, Undergraduate Student
At 23, Kristen can see the difference in discipline between younger and older students.

Campus Culture

Social fit is as important as academic fit. Students of all ages seek to "fit in" socially and create meaningful relationships with fellow students and other members of the campus community. Age and cultural differences can be a barrier to finding the right social fit. Students who feel disconnected from their campus culture report that it effects their academic performance.

Many students seek out extra-curricular activities to make school work for them. More than half join clubs and take internships.