#030 Your College List: Academic Fit

Show Notes


The Four Pillars of Building a College List kicks off with finding a school with a good academic fit. In this episode, I sat down with Cyndy McDonald, a highly connected independent college counselor, to discuss how students can ensure they find the right fit before applying to college. Cyndy talked about ensuring a student gets admitted because, without that, the rest of the pillars of a college list don’t hold much weight.

When you’re a college-bound family, taking the time to research and build your high school student’s college list is a crucial part of getting admitted in the end. But what does a “good academic fit” mean? In this episode of the College & Career Clarity podcast, we find out.


Setting your teen up for success in college and putting together their list of colleges where they’ll apply to can be broken down into four pillars- Academic Fit, Social Fit, Financial Fit, and College Major & Career Fit. Each of these aspects is imperative to a successful college experience. Today, I sat down with Cyndy to discuss the first one on our list- academic fit.

Academic fit is all about how your student will mesh with the school when they’re on campus. Every student has different needs, so understanding your teen’s and how their ideal school admits students will help your family  pick out the perfect school from the over 3,000 4-year colleges and universities.

But it’s about more than just how many students are in a class or what majors are available. There are several integral aspects of academic fit that you need to consider, both from your perspective and the perspective of the college you’re applying to. Not only do you need to find a school you want to attend, but you also need to find a school that wants you there.

Understanding your teen’s chances of “getting in” can be confusing. That’s why this episode of College & Career Clarity takes the time to really dive deep into what academic fit means and how you can apply it to decisions as your family looks at schools. 

Click here for more information about building your perfect college list for any family. If you’d like to learn more about how to do great college visits, check out episode #4, Getting the Scoop on College Visits and #23, College Visit Tips fom the College Spy . And if you’d like more information about a particular school, including their admission rates, visit Peterson’s and College Board.

Keep an eye out for the next episode in the series all about Social Fit, and hear how one of my past students got out of overwhelm and her advice to your teen.


  • What student-first centered college selection is
  • How to navigate where it’s getting harder and harder to be admitted to selective schools
  • How identifying “target” colleges can benefit the family
  • Resources for finding academic data
  • The top 2 academic factors for getting admitted

Meet Our Guest

Cyndy McDonald, CEP, is a recognized leader in both college counseling and in business. She has over thirty years of experience as a college advisor. Cyndy teaches in the UCLA online college counseling certificate program. She has consulted with college planning practices at all stages of their development- from starting out to expanding services. Cyndy serves as an active member of several professional organizations: NCAG, AICEP, NACAC, IECA, WACAC and HECA.

Listen on…the Flourish Site, Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon Music, Stitcher, or your favorite platform. 

“College & Career Clarity with Lisa is so helpful!”  ← Is that you? If so, please consider rating and reviewing my show so I can resource more families and eliminate overwhelm. Thank you!!

Links mentioned in this episode

College List Building Challenge

Episode: College Visit Tips fom the College Spy

Episode: Getting the Scoop on College Visits

Resource: IPEDS College Navigator Data

Resource: College Search Information from College Board

Launch College & Career Clarity Course

Launch College and Career Clarity Facebook Community

Find Cyndy on LinkedIn

Cyndy’s YouTube Channel

The College Counselor’s Coach   


[2:35] I introduce Cyndy and discuss her impressive credentials as a college counselor and counselor’s coach.

[2:57] The Four Components (or Pillars) of building your student’s college list.

[3:57] Cyndy defines academic fit from a student’s perspective, including where you are as a student.

[5:29] Cyndy presents two examples of academic fit from two learning experiences that deal with class size.

[7:20] Looking at admission rates provides perspective about where to put them on your list, especially when they admit less than 20% of applicants.

[9:48] Learn about your college and engage with them to improve your chances of getting into a school that offers a good academic fit.

[10:56] Scheduling a college tour can help you assess your academic fit.

[11:27] The next admission rate cut-off usually sits around 45%. But where you want to sit is at the target category, and that’s the next level up in admissions.

[14:44] Foundation vs. safety schools and their value compared to the other categories.

[15:05] The cost of college paired with your academic fit when considering your choices.

[16:08] The four pieces of a balanced list intertwine and affect the process.

[16:54] Finding a college’s percent of acceptance and other features through Peterson’s and College Board.

[18:21] The components of academic fit from the college’s perspective- rigor and academic success.

[20:22] GPA isn’t a leading factor, especially considering a weighted vs. an unweighted GPA.

[22:18] Tutoring is an underutilized resource that can help you with your success factor.

[23:23] Colleges want to know if you’ve researched their school and demonstrate your interest in the school.

[24:24] It’s all about doing your research, a skill that’ll prepare you for college and help you truly understand what you want and need for a good academic fit.

Access the episode transcript here.