Many students across the country enroll in school but drop out before completing their degree. In particular, some students—particularly students from low-income backgrounds— select colleges below their academic potential—called “undermatching.” Students who undermatch are 80% less likely to complete their degree. Postsecondary match advising structures can help “stop the leak” by ensuring students end up at a college that matches their academic prowess and pushes them to succeed.

Finding a “match” school for a student means finding a school that matches their academic, financial, and social needs (size, location, atmosphere, distance from home, etc). Attending a “right fit” school can contribute to students’ likelihood of persistence and completion. Schools must strengthen their advising structures to ensure students apply to colleges and universities that match their students’ wants and needs. To achieve this goal, schools must:

Counselors should conduct one-on-ones with college seniors and leverage data tools (e.g. College Greenlight, Big Futures, etc.) to help inform students about college match and affordability. They must also develop particular protocols to ensure students are aware of the array of institutions they can apply and succeed.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students, and students of color face structural barriers to enrolling and graduating college. These students often hail from under-resourced schools and/or lack the social and economic capital that affords their peers with college advising support to help them find match schools. As a result, students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation students are more likely than other groups to undermatch, leading to lower completion rates.

Providing comprehensive support and advising can help traditionally underrepresented students find colleges that match their academic potential and career interests. Postsecondary match advising offers appropriate, tailored guidance and directs students toward colleges with effective support structures that will help them complete their degree.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

Implementing a college match advisory structure would likely require more capacity and/or personnel to help students identify match colleges, complete financial aid applications, and discuss future goals. To mitigate costs, counselors and educators can leverage free, online research-backed toolkits and resources to help them develop effective match advising programs and layer in additional support.

View more strategy details


How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

Instead of hiring additional personnel, incurring additional recurring costs, districts can partner with college admissions organizations in their local community to build and implement match advising structures. Districts can also use available toolkits to train a team of dedicated educators and counselors already working within the district to champion the work. Districts could pay an initial upfront cost to develop a dashboard using data from the National Student Clearinghouse to help better match students to institutions that serve them well. After development, the district would not incur significant recurring costs to update the dashboard.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

Intentional and individualized match advising could begin at the start of students’ senior year. Ideally, training would begin in the summer to best equip new college match advisors. If districts elect to build their own dashboards, they will need to begin collecting data from the previous year to have some foundational data for advising incoming seniors.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Capacity Building: Districts may elect to partner with existing college access organizations to help support the work or they may choose to develop the program in-house. They will need a team of informed counselors willing to meet with students and learn about research-backed college match practices.
  • Program Development: Districts will first need to develop the postsecondary match advising program, determining the frequency, timing, and modality with which they will meet with students and families. Find the Fit suggests meeting with students before and during students’ senior year of high school.
  • Landscape Analysis: Districts should conduct a landscape analysis to better understand the current college-going culture among students within their district. The analysis should include stakeholder interviews with counselors, local college access organizations, students, and families; a landscape map consisting of local college access organizations and the types of support they provide; and preliminary research about the current college-going trends within the district, including the schools students apply to and ultimately enroll in.

Monitor and Sustain

  • Ongoing Training: The advising team should undergo training to ensure college match advisors have the knowledge and skills to better support students. Training should occur throughout the year to help share knowledge and provide updated information about colleges and admissions data.
  • Communication Channels: Districts should determine how they plan to engage with students and families. For example, they may choose to implement monthly workshops about different parts of the college admissions process. Communication channels should be segmented by audiences to guarantee students and families are receiving information that is relevant to their needs. They should also establish how they plan to communicate with students after they enroll in college to ensure the college they selected matches their needs.
  • Data Collection: If schools develop proprietary data collection tools (like Achieve Atlanta’s Match and Fit List Builder), they will need to continuously collect student-level data to better match students to institutions. MDRC published a list of data tracker ideas, including GPA, highest SAT/ACT scores, majors of interest, etc.

12th Grade Academic Performance - Invest Forward
12th Grade Transition Courses - Invest Forward

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Define success of the program and set short- and long-term goals (i.e. 50% of students will enroll in a match school as determined by their match advisor).
  2. Determine the framework for the program, including the frequency of meetings, communication timelines, match advising trainings, and college engagement protocols
  3. Determine which data tools counselors will use to explore match schools with their students; or, develop a data dashboard and begin collecting data to advise students about their options.
  4. Train college match advisors and begin meeting with students and families

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Collecting postsecondary data can be a challenge.
    • Solution: Use the National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker for High Schools. Districts can also establish data sharing agreements with local institutions to supplement the data they collect from students and counselors.
  2. Challenge: There is not enough time in the master schedule to implement individualized match advising meetings.
    • Solution: Districts can build match advising programming into the free periods, study hours or lunches to ensure every student receives the counseling they need. Alternatively, they may implement before- or after-school meetings.
  3. Challenge: Counselors do not have the capacity to meet with students one-on-one for advising assistance.
    • Solution: Districts can leverage partnerships with local college access organizations, volunteers, and colleges to communicate with and advise students. If counselors must take on the work without additional support, they may target particular students (first-generation, low-income, etc.) who need additional support applying to college.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

  • MDRC co-developed a pilot college-match program in schools in Chicago and New York City to help students find schools that matched their abilities and potential. The College Match Program trained near-peer advisors (recent college grads) to advise students on the college admissions process. Over a four-year period, they served about 1,200 students. These students saw real success in their college application process, and persisted and thrived throughout college. MDRC’s report In Search of a Match includes a practical guide detailing how districts can implement comprehensive postsecondary match advising programming.
  • DC Public Schools began using data to inform their college readiness initiatives, including using district-specific data to better understand how students from the region perform at higher education institutions. Armed with this data, counselors better advise high schoolers as they consider their college options. The Smart College Choices campaign has helped a number of students apply to schools with the support they will need to succeed.
  • The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools began with a goal to increase the number of Los Angeles County students who attend and graduate from college. They began Best Fit College Advising, which helps students pinpoint the best schools for them based on a student’s interest and preference, and data. PLAS also compiled a list of the best match schools and sent them to students and families to help them better assess the best schools for them.

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?