Once you have spent time “Discovering You” and determined your core values important in your college search, the next step is to begin researching schools and solidifying where you will be applying. Before you begin your college research, it is important to understand how many schools you should apply to and how to construct a balanced college list.

How many colleges should I apply to?

Application platforms nowadays simplify the process, it is important for you to know that just because it is easier for you to apply to a lot of schools, it does not mean that you necessarily should apply to an extraordinary amount.

  • Stay focused and develop a list of eight to twelve total schools that you plan to apply to. These schools should not only meet your core values, but should have your academic major, be financially affordable to you and your family, but, perhaps most important, they are institutions you would be excited to attend if accepted.  

What is a “Reach”, “Target” or “Likely” school? 

In general, a college with an acceptance rate between 1-25% is classified as a “Reach”; a college with an acceptance rate between 26-50% will be classified as “Target”; and colleges with an acceptance rate above 51% will be classified as “Likely” school.  

  • To determine this information for a particular college, the first thing you should do is to visit the admissions website and find the previous year’s admission profile —see the UCLA example below. 
  • If the acceptance rate for that particular school is not easily detected, simply divide the college’s total number of admitted students by the total number of applications it received last year; this will determine their acceptance rate.  
  • It is important to locate the school’s mid-50th percentile for both the GPA and test scores (if they accept them) for last year’s admitted class. If you cannot locate any of this information on their website, do not hesitate to reach out to the admissions office.  Once you have this information, ask yourself, where does my academic profile fit in with this particular college?  

What is a holistic application review?

Something important to note regarding “Reach” and “Likely” schools is that these are considered selective colleges and even if you meet the college’s academic profile, this does not guarantee you will be admitted. 

  • Grades and academic rigor are usually the top two most important factors that go into determining an admissions decision, but most of these selective schools utilize a “holistic” application review in their admissions process.  
  • In addition to grades and test scores, many other factors are considered in their decision; including an applicant’s activities and resume list, interviews, essays, letters of recommendation and demonstrated interest and much more.  

How do I know if my college list is balanced?

While it is important to make sure the colleges you apply to are an academic, social and financial fit for you–and they represent your core college values–it is equally important to make sure you have many realistic options after the whole process is complete.  To have a balanced college list means you have an equal amount of colleges and universities in your “Reach”, “Target” and “Likely” categories that you are excited about applying to–usually three to four colleges in each category.

 

The National Average Acceptance Rate is 66.1%.  Acceptance Rate does not determine if the school is a fit for you or if you will be successful there. 

Reach:  Your academic profile is slightly below the school’s mid 50th percentile and/or school’s acceptance rate is between 1 to 25%

Target:  Your academic profile is in the range of the school’s mid 50th percentile and/or school’s acceptance rate is between 26-50%

Likely:  Your academic profile is above the school’s mid 50th percentile and/or school’s acceptance rate is 50% or higher.  These schools may likely offer you more merit-based scholarships than the other two categories.

**For UC’s, CSU’s or other large state college systems–even though you may apply to more than one school in this system, it is recommended counting these as just one college on your overall college list** 

Don’t be afraid of rejection!

Rejection is a natural part of the college application process and being rejected from that first college is never easy. It is important to understand that selective colleges and universities may also utilize their own institutional priorities that guide them while shaping their admission class each year. These factors vary institution to institution and not all schools may have them every year.  

In general these priorities are not known to those outside the institution and can always change year after year. All in all, students can do everything right in this process and still be denied from a particular school.  So, now that you know this reality, do not be afraid to put yourself out there and please know, if you create a balanced college list, you will certainly have some fantastic options at the end of this process.  

Be Organized!

Create a spreadsheet, like Google Sheets, to keep all of your college research in one place. In the first column, list all of the schools you are planning to research. In the next column indicate if this is a “Reach”, “Target” or “Likely” school using the information indicated above. Additional columns should include the college’s academic profile and acceptance rate, as well as other indicators that will help differentiate the colleges on your list, such as:

  • Percentage of Need-Based Aid the Institution Meets
  • Testing Policies (Test-Optional, Flexible, etc.)
  • Number of Undergraduates
  • 4 and 6-year Graduation Rate
  • Major(s) That Interest You
  • Clubs/Organizations That Interest You
  • Unique Courses Offered
  • Links to Virtual Visit Resources
  • Potential Questions You Have for the College Admissions Counselor
  • Application Deadlines (Early-Decision, Early Action or Regular Decision)
  • Application Platform (Common Application, Coalition, Institutional Application)
  • Supplemental Essays (if required by the institution)
  • Are Optional Interviews Available
  • What You/Parents Think About the College

Organizing yourself with a document like this will not only help you compare the colleges you are researching, it will help you indicate if your college list is balanced. In addition, once your college decisions begin to come in, you will also be able to use this document to easily view the colleges that have accepted you and compare their financial aid packages. All of this will assist you in making that all important decision: out of the colleges that said yes to you, what college will you choose to call home!

Chuck Liddiard is the founder and executive director of The Paratum Scholars, whose vision is to empower students to discover their college, their passion and their path.  Learn more about The Paratum Scholars and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.