What do jigsaw puzzles and good college decision-making have in common?

Updated: Oct 2



Summary – In this article, we will discuss decision-making. People are naturally good at certain kinds of decisions and may struggle with others. We will present a standard decision framework and use a jigsaw puzzle analogy to help bring the framework to life. We will then apply the framework to the college decision. We will show some of the tools available for gathering information. We will then discuss the College Xoice® smartphone app as a key solution to help you activate college information and make the best college decision.


Decision-making: the good and the not-so-good - People have a love/hate relationship with decision-making. We are really good at certain kinds of decisions, like –

  1. Decisions from regularly reoccurring situations providing rapid feedback – such as driving a car or a game we regularly play, like chess or cards. -OR-

  2. Decisions where we only must decide between 2 things – such as, "what do you like better, apples or oranges?"

But there are the not-so-good situations when people notoriously struggle to make a good decision, like -

  1. Decisions we rarely make and that provide delayed feedback - such as buying a car or the college decision. -OR-

  2. Decisions when we have many alternative choices - such as the many colleges from which to choose.

It is not your fault! It is actually the result of our evolutionary biology. Our decision-making ability evolved to make good and fast decisions to get us out of trouble. Thousands of years ago, decisions like “Should I run from this wild animal?” were the difference between life and death. In fact, the very fact that you are reading this is proof positive of your evolution and that your ancestors ran when they needed! So, we evolved to quickly make lifesaving decisions as a means to pass on our genetic information to our children. Unfortunately, our natural decision-making evolution did not include complex decisions like college.


While it is not our fault we struggle with certain decisions, it is still our responsibility to figure out how to make good decisions, even for those decisions we are NOT naturally good at.


College decision-making process and solutions - Historically, there has been technology available to help people with certain aspects of the decision. Until now, there was no tool to help you make the most important part of the decision. We are now going to discuss the college decision and why you need apps like College Xoice® to help you make the best decision.

  1. We will start by describing the typical decision framework.

  2. We will then apply it to a jigsaw puzzle as a helpful analogy for decision-making.

  3. We will conclude by applying our framework to the college decision.

Decision-making follows a typical system design framework: A "guiding light" decision objective is followed by the standard "Input – Process – Output" systems model:



With a jigsaw puzzle, our objective is to be as accurate as possible, completing the puzzle as the picture on the puzzle box.

  1. The inputs are all the puzzle pieces strewn across the table. We then organize them by color, by images on the box, or by edge pieces and inside pieces.

  2. The process proceeds by putting the puzzle together and connecting the pieces. This is where the heavy lifting occurs. This is usually characterized as a trial-and-error process, to see what pieces fit and are aligned with the picture on the box. The jigsaw puzzle slowly takes shape as more pieces are connected.

  3. The output is a finished puzzle! We then compare the completed puzzle to the picture on the box to see if our objective was met. If all the pieces are used and the puzzle looks the same as the picture, then we met our objective and the puzzle is an accurate representation of the picture. YEA!

College decision-making follows a similar pattern. Our objective is accuracy to our goal. Our goals often include attending a college to help us improve critical thinking, learn useful job readiness skills, learn life skills, learn social skills, and have some fun along the way. Accuracy is when the outcome accurately looks like our goals.

  1. The inputs are generally all the data we need to make a good college decision. We gather data from many places – such as from websites, colleges themselves, college testing services like The College Board, high school counselors, high school-provided tools like Naviance and Cappex, family and friends, and many other places. This data will help you create your target school list. That is the 5 to 10 colleges that are your reach, target, or fallback alternatives. The good news is that there is a lot of information available about college. The bad news is, that data has not been processed to help you make a decision from your target school list. Gathering and organizing input data is not the same as making a good decision!

  2. The decision process starts by identifying all your criteria preferences. That is, what is important to you about going to college? You then weigh all those criteria and apply them to your college alternatives. These are the target schools you determined in the input step. At this point, your hunt is to learn how the colleges' rate as compared to your college preference criteria. You gather this by going on college visits, going to their website, and talking to college representatives. The good news is, there is a great app to help you with this decision process step. College Xoice® educates you on the decision process, then captures your criteria and the college data you collect. Think of the app as a “concierge in your pocket.” It collects information from you as you step through the college discovery process. All the while, preparing that data to make a great decision. It even lets you make changes as you learn more. It follows a process using your really good decision skills as we discussed at the beginning. Via the app's formulas, the app handles the “struggle decision skills” for you in the background.

  3. The output is the best college decision recommendation! The decision provides real confidence – not “fake it ‘til you make it” hopeful confidence – that your decision is the best for you and based on deep decision theory, mathematics, and a cognitive-enhancing user interface.

You are not alone! College Xoice® enables you to invite others from your college decision team to participate in your college decision. Provided feedback is readily compared to your perspective. It enables you to update your perspective as desired.


In conclusion - People naturally struggle with college decision-making and similar decisions. Until now, you and your caregivers have been on your own to try and make the best decision. College Xoice is a great tool, based on both the behavioral sciences and the decision sciences, to help you make the best decision. This will leave you feeling confident to tackle your freshman year and get the most out of your college experience!


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