How Do Students Make a Balanced College List and Why Is It More Important Than Ever?
Maryline Michel Kulewicz and Tracy Sullivan of College 101 Admissions Consultants
“Research has shown that high school GPAs can be a stronger indicator of college success than standardized exams,” says John Ambrose, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Michigan State University. In fact, 5 times more likely.
Test-optional colleges are becoming the norm in 2022, which has resulted in a record number of college applications at many of the “elite” universities or colleges this past year–Harvard, NYU, Tufts, UVA, to name a few. The headlines are touting how acceptance rates at these schools have plummeted to single digits. BUT the good news is that the majority of colleges are still admitting over 68% of their applicants. So, when a student asks, “Where should I apply - will I get in?” Our answer is to reject the urge to apply to 25 elite schools, but instead be more deliberate with your choices and create a well-balanced college list.
A few tips on creating a
balanced college list:
• What does a well-balanced college list look like?
Approximately 9 right-fit colleges
Imagine 3 or 4 buckets filled with likely, probable, and reach colleges, with possibly 1 or 2 wildcard colleges.
Your list should include 3 likely schools (student’s academic profile is stronger than the middle 50% of the typical admitted students); 4 probable schools (students’ academic profile is the middle 50%); 2 reach schools (student’s profile is not as strong as the middle 50%. OR, the student may qualify academically, but the acceptance rate is less than 35%); and wildcard schools which have acceptance rates less than 20%. You could be academically qualified, but the chances of ANYONE being admitted is very low. If you apply to any wildcards - they should be in addition to the 9.
Super Tip: It is important that you want to attend all of the schools on your list, especially the likely schools. Worst case scenario - you may only get into one school and if it is your likely - you want to love it!
Visiting campuses is essential! You can experience the campus vibe, see if your “people” are there, and check out programs that you may be interested in exploring. It is the best way to imagine if you could call this place home for the next 4 years. In-person visits are ideal, but if it is not possible then take a deep dive into virtual tours, YouTube college videos, and student opinion sites - like Niche or College Scoops. Research is key! FREE resources (email us).
Super Tip: Look for the hidden gems colleges which are colleges that are not on the top 150 US elite colleges list. Hidden gems are less well-known so less challenging to get into and could result in more merit.
• Self-Reflection & Assessment
Think about what you want from your college experience. If a high-pressure environment would cause too much stress, then an Ivy league school is probably not the right academic or emotional fit for you, no matter how exciting it seems at first. If affordability is a non-negotiable factor, there are plenty of colleges that are known for providing good merit and financial aid. If you like to have the city as your campus, then attending a school in rural America will not be the right social fit. Searching for the right fit college is an evolving process - keep reflecting and assessing.
Affordability is a major factor for many families, and you don’t want any surprises in the spring of senior year. Make sure everyone in the family is on the same page about what the family can afford. It doesn’t mean not to add “expensive” schools to your list. You never know what you may receive for financial aid or merit. Approximately only 11% of families pay full price for college.
Final super tip: College acceptance rates are the ratio of the number of total applicants to accepted students. Remember, schools with low acceptance rates do not necessarily equate to a right-fit school or a better education. And conversely, likely schools with higher acceptance rates do not equate to an education that is not “good enough.”
Take your time, visit, research, and make sure your final list of colleges has the college criteria that will make you thrive for the next 4 years…and beyond!
College 101 Admissions Consultants LLC.
Email: [email protected]