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Keeping Perspective on the College-Selection Process

This time of year, as high school seniors decide where to apply to college—and some trying for early admission—there can be a tendency to fixate on the "perfect school." 

So, it's also a good time to get some perspective on the process and value of school choice.

Most seniors are casting an increasingly wide net in their college search. About 30 percent apply to seven or more colleges, and 80 percent to three or more, reports the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

While many pin their hopes on a few elite school with high selectivity rates, it's important to know that, overall, colleges admit 63.8 percent of students, according to the association.

Only 2 percent of the country's 2,543 four-year degree-granting colleges and universities accepted less than 25 percent of their applicants in 2011, according to the most recent trends report released last week from the College Board. And, of all full-time undergraduate students, just 4 percent were enrolled in these institutions.

About half of all four-year institutions have open admissions or accept at least 75 percent of the applicants. These schools make up about 40 percent of the population of full-time undergrads, the College Board reports.

Rather than getting hung up on the "right" or "best" school, it might be wise for students to spend more time considering career choices during their senior year. Research finds that incomes of new college graduates are more closely tied to career choice than the institutions from which students graduate, according to the American Institutes for Research.

Studies by Paul Kruger of Princeton University and Stacy Dale of Mathmatica Policy Research have shown that graduates from elite colleges don't have a corner on the market when it comes to making money. Indeed, students with simliar SAT scores earned about the same income whether or not they attended an Ivy League school, the economists found.

So, in the frenzy that is the college application home stretch this fall, students should remember the wise words of their counselors: It's about fit. It's not about which school tops the rankings list, but which school feels right for them—and their family's budget. Rather than succumbing to the hype of the search, students should save that energy to make the most of their college experience once on campus. There really is a college just right for every student.

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