Building a college list that works

06.04.21 07:00 AM Comment(s)

From the Clipboard-Guest post-Building a college list that works

This week, we have a guest post from Ashly Jordan of My Education Connections, based in Las Vegas, NV. Thanks Ashly for sharing this great information!

Building A College List that Works

College admissions, two words that have the power to induce fear and panic in students and parents alike. Parents worry about how to afford the ever rising tuition and students anxiously await their admission decisions after endless essays, score reporting, and application submissions. This dreaded rite of passage has become a tradition for many families as parents long for a simpler time, when they applied to only a couple colleges by paper application. Even though the process can be overwhelming and often overly complicated, there are some important steps to remember that make this stress inducing season a little easier on all parties.

The first step in the arduous journey is to start preparing early with career exploration through electives, extracurriculars, summer programs, shadowing, and internships when appropriate. Students should start ruling in what they enjoy in terms of a career and ruling out what they feel confident is not a suitable career option for them. Once your student starts identifying their interests it is important to 

Reach schools are classified as such for a variety of reasons. The most common is that the school’s incoming freshman class’s average metrics like GPA and test scores are higher than those held by the applicant. The second most common reason is that the school is highly competitive and selective for everyone regardless of metrics. The threshold can vary, but you can feel confident in a reach school designation if the percent of students admitted is less than 30%. I have students with a perfect GPA, ranked number 1 in their class and near perfect test scores who want to attend an Ivy League or Hidden Ivy school and we have to categorize it as a reach school because of the single digit admission percentages. I cannot stress this enough but it is absolutely imperative to remain as objective, realistic, and pragmatic as possible when making these distinctions about all the colleges on their list.

An applicant will have similar, if not a little higher, grades and scores than the average metrics of the school’s incoming freshman class to earn a target school designation. Selectivity can play a role, especially if a school is in the 30-50% acceptance range. Most target schools will fall in the 40-70% acceptance range. Students will have a better chance of gaining admission and their opportunities for merit based financial aid dramatically increase at target schools because they can set themselves apart with their grades, test scores, course rigor, passion projects, work experience and leadership positions. 

Safety schools are those that have an average incoming class’s metrics significantly below the applicant’s metrics. They usually need to be in the least selective designation which is above 70% acceptance. Safety schools not only offer the best chances at gaining admission, but also at merit based financial aid. A student’s unique resume assists in setting them apart at safety schools as well. 

Now there are a myriad of other factors like in-state auto-admission policies to public institutions in various states like Texas and California, along with other states that offer preference to in-state applicants. These are often important factors, but tend to be the exceptions rather than the rules. 

So now that I have bored you, in detail, with the statistics and classification of colleges on a list. The key to really building a solid college list is not only understanding how the categorizations work, but also ensuring you have an adequate number of schools that fall within each category. I recommend a minimum of 2-3 in each category because as in life nothing is guaranteed and we want to ensure the student has options and a great university to attend in the fall. Our focus as a society is usually on the reach schools, but the target and safety categories are actually just as, if not more, important because those provide the best opportunities for a debt free education.

Thank you Ashly for this great guest post. You can reach her via email or through her website, My Education Connections.

I write primarily on college financial aid and student loan topics. My firm has a particular specialty in working with self-employed or small business owners on these issues.

My content is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as advice or any kind of solicitation to buy or sell anything. As always, consult your own financial or tax professional for your own specific situation. Your mileage may vary. Batteries not included.


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