It’s easy, particularly for international students, to decide on a college list based solely on how a particular school or department was ranked by an outside agency. However, though rankings are important, they aren’t everything. Here are a couple other suggestions we have for you when thinking about developing a college list.
Create a Segmented List—Though none of the students we’ve advised have ever experienced this nightmare scenario, I’ve met a couple students who did not get into a single school to which they applied! In one case, a girl applied to all “reach” schools except for one “target” school. Unfortunately, she severely underestimated her “target” school. The year in which she applied, the school changed their admissions policy and ended up admitting far fewer students from her high school. When thinking about your college list, we advise students to apply to three tiers of schools:
- Safety Schools—These are schools that you have a 75% chance (or higher) of getting into. If you look at the school’s standardized test scores and average GPA of admitted students, you should be in the 75th to 99th percentile of students that they admit. You should apply to at least two safety schools.
- Target Schools—These are schools that you have a roughly 50% chance of getting into. If you look at the standardized test scores and GPA of admitted students, you should be in upper 50% of students they admit. You should apply to at least two target schools.
- Reach or Dream Schools—These are schools that you have a less than 25% chance of getting into. If a school has an overall admissions rate of under 15%, the school represents a reach school for any student, no matter your grades, scores, or activities. Apply to as many reach schools as your family decides on, but remember that each school will likely require more supplemental essays.
Consider Fit—Several years ago, a student from a rural area was accepted to a number of top 20 universities and liberal arts colleges. Because I had worked with him for many months, I knew that he wouldn’t enjoy life as an engineering major at Berkeley, a large, public university in California. Instead, I advised him to attend a small, prestigious liberal arts college in a small town on the East Coast. However, he went against our advice and enrolled at Berkeley. After his first semester, he was back…asking for help in transfer applications. No matter how highly ranked a particular college, if you aren’t happy at that school, you will not succeed academically or socially.
Here are some questions to ponder:
- Are you a big school or a small school person? When I was applying to college, I knew that I would not enjoy being one of 35,000+ students. I turned down a scholarship to a large university to go to a school of only 1600 students, and I never regretted my decision. Though I didn’t get to cheer on a winning football team, I conducted research with several professors, took a class with only six other students, led a student club, and had dinner with my faculty advisor in his home.
- Where in the U.S. do you want to live? Are you more comfortable in a city? The suburbs? In a rural area? Remember that your college experience extends beyond the academic program. It will (hopefully) become your home away from home for the next four years of your life.
- What kind of academic program are you looking for? Are you looking for a program that will prepare you for a certain career or professional school (e.g., medical school)? Are you interested in continuing on in academia? University of Chicago and Northwestern University are two schools that look very similar on paper—both medium-sized, top 20 universities located in the Chicago metropolitan area. They nevertheless exude a different “feel” and campus culture. Northwestern has a far more pre-professional orientation while University of Chicago is all about developing the life of the mind.
- What kind of campus culture appeals to you? Some schools are known to be more competitive, others are more collaborative; some have a strong Greek system, some have a strong robotics team; some emphasize creativity while others emphasize co-op experiences.
Creating a strategic college list is an important part of your college application process. For help in crafting the best-fit list for you, please contact Pasifik Consultants at email@example.com for a free consultation.