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There are over 5,300 colleges in the United States so choosing where to apply can be overwhelming for students and their families. Oftentimes, families are unsure where to begin.
While college rankings or suggestions from college-aged friends can be a good start, there are many drawbacks to this approach that can lead to an unsuccessful admissions process. Below you'll read about the common mistakes people make when putting together a college list.
Students can find schools across the U.S. based on "fit." Some of these factors include academics, selectivity, cost, student resources, program offerings, and personal preference such as location and student body size. Once a student understands the different factors and what's important to them, it's time to hone in on the specifics and create an ideal list of safety, target, and reach schools. You can put together your perfect school list for free with our school list builder.
After working with over 10,000 students and their families, there are three mistakes we see being made time and time again — and they can be prevented.
There are two things that most families will base a school list off of — recommendations and college rankings. Asking friends, family, and co-workers about their experience can be a good way to get an inside perspective of a school. But, it’s important to remember that what fit for one individual may not make sense for your child. The other thing we find is that students and families go online and look at college rankings to make a list based on schools they qualify for, without considering other factors. Many times we find students applying to schools that they are either overqualified or under-qualified for. If a student is overqualified, they might find they aren’t being challenged enough and this could lead to missed opportunities. If a student is overqualified they might fail to get accepted, or if accepted, they might struggle to graduate.
It’s important to create a balanced school list based on many factors. As many as 53% of high school students in the United States are mismatched to their college. Using our expansive college database, we make it easy to discover schools that are the right fit given your unique set of preferences.
It’s important to be insightful when creating a school list to ensure you will get accepted into at least one school you will be happy to attend. If students apply to all safety schools, they will run the risk of not being challenged enough and growing bored. If they apply to all reach schools they might get accepted into very few — if any at all — leaving them with few choices.
A student should apply to 8-12 schools, with 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools.
Determining what category a school falls into for your student is dependent on his or her profile. For example, a reach school for one student might be a safety school for another. Safety: These are schools that your student has an 80% or above chance of admission. This doesn’t mean the admission rate is 80%. If he or she has a GPA of 4.2 and the school typically accepts applicants with an average GPA of 3.4, it’s likely that will be a safety school. Target: These are schools that your student has between a 20%-80% chance of admission. If he or she is on target to get accepted to a school, it means that their profile is similar to those that are typically admitted. Reach: These are the schools that are going to be the hardest for your student to gain acceptance to. Your student will have less than a 20% chance, meaning he or she is below the threshold of a typical admit. However, even the most qualified applicants should consider schools with less than a 15% acceptance rating a reach.
Conducting research is the key to a successful college list. You should consider what factors are most important in a school and create an extensive list. Then you should narrow down that list by selecting a balance of safety, target, and reach schools. We help students understand their real chances through our Chancing Engine, which uses 100,000+ data points to calculate your chances based on factors that admissions officers use.
We'll calculate your real chances for free based on your profile; this same information is used by admissions officers when you submit your application. After we calculate your chances, you'll learn what areas you need to improve in order to get into your dream schools!Calculate your chances
In addition to calculating your chances, you'll be able to browse hundreds of schools based on your chances and preferences to find the right schools for you. Through our free platform, you'll be able to put together a solid college list with personalized recommendations from the experts.
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