As part three of our blog series, Crafting Your College List, now it’s time to narrow down the list of schools you will apply to, and ensure that your list is balanced in a way that is right for you. The ultimate goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at the college you choose to attend!

Creating Your College List

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your final college list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, these categories of schools can be defined as follows:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy. The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades, if you have taken them. Due to Covid-19, most schools have adopted a test-optional policy for 2020 and 2021 applicants. Read our blog, Covid-19 and the SAT/ACT: What You Need to Know, for more information about testing changes.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance or SCOIR, web-based software programs that present the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

For example, below is a Naviance scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington. If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green checks of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted if you meet Emory’s other criteria. If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal factors. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade. This year, colleges are even more committed to taking a holistic approach to admissions, as described here by Harvard University’s admissions website for first-year applicants:

While academic accomplishment is important, the Admissions Committee considers many other factors—strong personal qualities, special talents or excellences of all kinds, perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances, and the ability to take advantage of available resources and opportunities.

Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. Engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you. These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Consider overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined and selectivity has increased. It is more important than ever to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, here’s our recommendation for a balance of reach, target, and safe schools:

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment, and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or you are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

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In part one of our blog series, Crafting Your College List, we discussed how to identify your Best-Fit College Features. Part two, College Visits, provided tips for researching a college and making the most of your visits.

Join us for our live presentation, Crafting Your College List, on November 18th at 6 pm EST, where we will be providing even more valuable insight into this process and answering your questions! Click here to register.

For more guidance, explore our upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our admissions consulting services.

Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!