By Fred Alvarez — College Counselor
Miles Munding-Becker (U12) is a good friend of mine.
But before he was that, the University of Redlands graduate was one of my best and brightest Humanities and World History students, and a standout athlete on my track and cross country teams.
And before he was that, he was a talented, albeit highly mischievous student at the Lower Campus, where he started as a Tater Tot and graduated eighth grade in 2008.
And now look at him.
Miles graduated from Redlands a week ago with a degree in environmental science, and a minor in spatial studies.
As part of his college experience, he studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, took part in a month-long exploration of Peru, and served as a trip leader in the university’s outdoor program, tapping skills he learned at Ojai Valley School to guide his college classmates on adventures to Joshua Tree and Yosemite.
He practiced the science of ecological conservation, resource management and biological diversity, and now, in so many ways, he’s ready to put his knowledge and skills to use in the larger world.
He is also in so many ways the poster child for the college counseling team’s primary mission – finding the right fit for our students.
As spring of his senior year in high school approached, Miles had offers of admission from a half dozen colleges and universities, and he chose Redlands in large part because of the financial aid package offered by the university.
But he also chose Redlands because for him it was the best fit, offering an impressive blend of academics in his chosen field of study and a good number of co-curricular activities that allowed him to apply his classroom learning to his areas of academic interest.
I was reminded of our mission a while back as various publications began to release their annual rankings of “best colleges.”
There are now dozens of such reports – by players including Forbes, the New York Times and US News and World Report –ranking everything from top public schools to best liberal arts colleges to top value schools, which include in their calculations how much money their graduates go on to earn.
There’s a list of the Top Schools that mint the most billionaire alumni. There’s another for Best Campus Food and another for Best Campus Dorms.
For whatever information such lists impart, and however much consternation those rankings might stir, the one thing they can never tell students is how well they might fit into the landscape of any campus they are considering.
I was also reminded of our mission during spring break when I, along with two other teachers, led 15 OVS students on a whirlwind tour of a dozen East Coast colleges and universities. Those visits included such academic titans as Harvard, Yale and Columbia University, but we also spent time at lesser-known schools such as Wesleyan University and UMass Lowell.
And all the time we talked fit. We asked students whether they could “see” themselves at these campuses, and what about those schools appealed to them or turned them off. In other words, we asked students whether they saw these campuses as good fits for their style of learning, their academic and social interests, and a myriad of personal considerations such as size, location and financial aid offerings.
Of course, I was also reminded of fit as National College Decision Day approached. May 1 marks the day that students across the country will make final choices about the schools they plan to attend next year, decisions that bring to a head the months-long, angst-ridden process of filling out applications, writing essays and culling college lists.
For the current crop of OVS seniors, these last few months have been all about finding the right fit. But just how do you measure fit?
A 2014 study by Purdue University and the Lumina Foundation, in conjunction with Gallup, arrived at the “Big Six” experiences that students should seek from any college or university they attend. Those experiences are:
• A professor who makes them excited about learning.
• A professor who cares about them as a person.
• A mentor who encourages them to pursue their goals and dreams.
• Opportunities to work on a long-term project.
• A job or internship where they can apply what they learn in the classroom.
• Opportunities to be extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations.
When talking fit, this isn’t a bad place to start. And if you talk to Miles, you’ll find he was able to check off every one of those criterion during his four years at the University of Redlands.
“I loved Redlands because it gave me so many opportunities,” Miles said. “It introduced me to incredible people and allowed me to have amazing experiences I don’t think I would have had at any of the other colleges I applied to.”
All of our students should be so lucky. And that’s our mission at the college counseling office.
College counselor Fred Alvarez has taught history and journalism at the Upper Campus for the past decade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.