How to Prepare for College

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Why Building A Balanced College List Is Essential

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Students and parents: Enjoy another article from Mary Kate Hampton’s “How To Prepare For College” series. The topic today is building a balanced list when considering college applications in an environment where many schools are more selective.

Why building a balanced college list is essential

It’s a trend that continues year after year during college application season: the most selective schools in the nation receive an increased number of applications. The old economic principle of supply and demand tends to apply here; when applications increase, admissions rates shrink. This isn’t only happening with Ivy League schools or elite institutions. Colleges of all kinds have seen a higher number of applications in the last few admissions cycles, and the Common Application reports that apps went up 7.5% since last year. A demand for more higher education isn’t a bad thing, but it can make navigating the admissions process quite tricky. Read on to learn about why building a balanced college list is essential for students who are applying to college.

The term “safety” school no longer applies. While some state and private schools have long been labeled as “safety” schools for students, many top students have learned the hard way that admissions rates have dropped by a lot. In some cases, even students with the top scores and grades might not fit the composition of the admissions class in any particular school. That said, it is wise to never assume that a school will grant an automatic acceptance. Instead, consider balancing a college list with a range of schools that are a good fit for a particular student. Instead of safety schools, aim to formulate a list that focuses more on likely admission, just right admission, and yes, even a reach or two. On your list, consider including a few schools with acceptance rates that are more generous—at 50% or higher.

The early decision round of admissions can be very decisive. The early application options that some schools offer has become a super selective round. (As a reminder—early action is non-binding, and early decision requires students to commit if admitted.) Schools like Harvard and Duke have received record numbers of early applicants in recent years, and this is changing the admissions game. Freshman classes, it seems, are largely decided by early decision applications; in some cases, as many as 50% of a school’s freshman class might be admitted in an early application round. By the time regular decision applications are in, about half of the “seats” in an incoming class could already be decided. This is no reason to panic, but it is a reason to consider working with College Ready to help navigate the early months of the admissions process. Working with experienced consultants could help a student commit—or not commit, depending on the right fit—to schools in the early action and early decision time frame.

You can find more than one great fit for you. As the experts at College Ready know, there are many institutions across the nation and around the world that offer great educational opportunities for all kinds of students. Finding the best matches for a student is the most important thing when it comes to making a college list. Taking time to research colleges can be overwhelming. Looking up majors, determining a preferred size, region, and college culture takes some effort. At College Ready, consultants walk through this process with students as they build lists of more than just a few schools (ideally 10 o 15!) that would be a great match. Some of the essential details to consider are whether a school is a good fit financially, socially, and academically. Overall, you want a college list with a variety of schools that you would say yes to.

Junior year (or even earlier) is a good time to start. If you’re a rising senior, and you’re reading this: don’t worry, it’s not too late. But know that researching schools, visiting campuses, and refining your list of schools can take some time. One fun way high schoolers might want to learn about their potential colleges is through social media; following accounts of schools, sports teams, and other student organizations can often give a good idea of school culture and spirit.

Options are empowering. By acceptance time during senior year, a balanced college list should grant you at least a few options to choose from. The freedom of choice and the peace of mind that comes with having researched, rated, and refined one’s own college list is empowering.

Multiple acceptances can lead to money. After getting accepted to more than one school, ideally students will be able to compare and contrast financial aid packages and/or scholarship offers.

College Ready students show us how it’s done. College Ready seniors applying to schools in the 2022-23 school year have received admission to highly selective schools across the United States including New York University (NYU) and the University of Southern California (USC). USC received more than 80,000 applications for fall admission and admitted just 9.9%. NYU had 120,000 applicants, and offered admission to 8%. With the right college list, students can have the power of choice for some great fit schools.

Of course, many students have dream schools, and at College Ready, we encourage those dreams. Apply to dream schools with the knowledge that experts are helping you to write your most authentic admissions essay, organize your application details, and counsel you through big decisions. Just be sure to add some more possible dreams to your college list.

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