Selecting a college is one of the biggest steps you will take in your young adult life. It is an important decision that requires thoughtful attention and time.
Take the time to visit each school and get a feel for the campus. There is so much to be learned from immersing yourself in that school’s environment.
As for applications, we always recommend that students apply to at least 5-6 schools, including:
(at least) 1 likely* school, 2-4 target/match schools, 1-3 reach schools
Princeton Review does a nice job summarizing the definition of match, reach, and safety* — we call these “likely” schools because we believe the term “safety” is deceiving. You should be excited about your likely schools and should carefully consider whether you could actually see yourself attending the school(s).
See here for more information from Princeton Review:
A match school is one where your academic credentials (GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and class rank) fall well within (or even exceed) the school’s range for the average freshman. There are no guarantees, but it’s not unreasonable to be accepted to several of your match schools.
A reach school is one where your academic credentials fall below the school’s range for the average freshman. Reach schools are long-shots, but they should still be possible (and not a dream).
A safety school is one where your academic credentials fall above the school’s range for the average freshman. You should be reasonably certain that you will be admitted to your safety schools. Like the rest of your list, these should also be colleges you’d be happy to attend.
The goal is for you to feel excited about all of your options.
With your match and reach schools, the essays are extremely important as they can be used to differentiate amongst similarly qualified applicants. The essays are your opportunity to showcase your personality and unique traits. Anyone can score well quantitatively, but it is through the essays that the Admissions committee gets a real feel for who you are and if you would be a good fit on that school’s campus.
Here are a few tips about selecting your college, once you have received admissions news:
Be True to You: First of all, you’re only 17-18 years old. Secondly, not everyone knows they want to be a doctor, or an accountant, or a lawyer. However, spend time thinking about what truly interests you and if possible, take the time to shadow people in areas of interest to you. If you don’t know what you want to do or major in by the time you head off to college, that’s fine too.
Select a school that gives you the opportunity to explore during your freshman year and declare as a sophomore. There are many schools that give students the freedom to explore freshman year, so think strongly about that before selecting your school.
Let Your Ego Go: The college application time period is a very stressful one, particularly if you attend a competitive high school. Everyone is talking about where they are applying and who got in and it can be very easy to get wrapped up in that. However, see number 1, and remember to be true to yourself during the process. Just because you got into a school that someone is dying to get into does not mean it’s the best choice for you and your future. We know of several people who decided to attend prestigious universities simply because their ego came into play. They knew in their guts and hearts that other schools were better matches for them and wish they had made the “right” choice from the start.
Visit Again: Our last tip is to visit the college again. Ask to spend some time in the classroom or do an overnight in the dorms. How you view the school will change once you have been admitted, so if it works with your schedule and budget, schedule another visit.