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Why Colleges Are Like Soft Drinks

If you’re old enough to remember The Pepsi Challenge, you will recall that while consumers bought way more Coca-Cola, in a blind test, they actually preferred the taste of Pepsi. So why buy Coke? Simple: they were more familiar with the name.

Let’s say you’re a parent who went to UCLA, knows a little about USC and Cal, and has, of course, heard of Harvard and Princeton. Without realizing it, this familiarity might form your subconscious list of “good” schools. If so, you might understandably get invested in wanting your child to go to one of them and fear for her future if she doesn’t get in. Stomach muscles clenching yet?

Many of us know the names of only a handful of colleges and believe that because we know those names, these are the best schools for everyone. The truth is that a school isn’t a great school unless it’s a great fit for a particular student.

We hear parents talk about “fit” all the time when it comes to their kids’ K-12 education. But when it comes to college, the idea of finding a school that’s right for a particular child rarely seems to surface. A good fit in college is equally or more important than it is in K-12.

So what’s a good fit? A good fit college is a place where a student feels comfortable and happy, and can flourish. A familiar name or a respected reputation has no impact on the goodness of the fit.

By the way, another finding of The Pepsi Challenge was that what consumers liked better than either Coke or Pepsi was a little-known brand called RC Cola. So, really, what’s in a name?

Do name brands figure into your college perceptions?

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