Choosing which colleges to apply to is a bit of an art and a bit like throwing dice. I remember one student a few years ago who decided to apply to all the Ivies. “Why not?” she said. “If I don’t apply, I won’t be giving myself a chance.” In late March of the next year, she got seven thin envelopes in the mail, all on the same day, all rejections. Luckily, she quickly received some acceptances from her target schools. She is now a junior at Sarah Lawrence, and completely over that “black day of rejection.”
This story is both funny and some students' worst nightmare. For the high school senior, it’s normal to wonder, “What if no one accepts me?” That won’t be you if you plan for success and acceptance. By thinking both wisely and realistically you can make sure that you never get seven rejections all on the same day. Maybe you’ll get seven acceptances instead!
First, consider the reality of your situation. Start by looking closely at your transcript. Is it full of great grades in AP classes or average grades in regular classes? Don’t lose heart if you’re an average student. There are plenty of schools for you. And don’t be filled with hubris if you’re an excellent student, either. Admission to top schools depends on more than just numbers.
There are lots schools you’ve heard of, the name brand schools. But it might be the smaller, little known school that you’ll be accepted to first and will excel at later. A good way to find out who any school is accepting is by checking the college’s website. Read it thoroughly. You can even call the admissions office and ask them if you should apply to their school. They will be honest and tell you if you are a match or a reach.
Tweaking the college list is a process, a little like making bread. Every once in a while, you’ll want to press the dough down, and get all the air out before leaving it to rise. Students should be ready to cross off schools if their list doesn’t balance. Make sure you have at least three targets, two reaches and two safeties, just to be sure. And of these, some should be near to home and some far away. Some should be large schools and some small. Give yourself a choice when April comes. You might find that you want a small school out of town, after all!
Creating the perfect college list take a bit of skill, a bit of luck, and a lot of hard work. Consider your list. If you get regular mail from one of the schools, consider applying there. If one of your parents attended a school on your list, that legacy is an important advantage, so apply there. If you have a special talent, call admissions and talk to them about it. You might be just who they’re looking for. It never hurts to ask.
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