The college application process has only just begun for high school juniors. While applying to college via the Common App has gotten easier there remain things that require serious thought in order to achieve maximum positive results. These include the creation of a well-balanced and realistic college list, identifying the best strategy for when and how to apply, and thinking of how to finance a college education without incurring a massive amount of student debt.
The foundation of every student’s college application process is their academic profile, which is made up of the transcript, GPA/class rank and SAT/ACT scores. Together these three pieces of information will dictate which schools will be on the college list. All too many college lists are either top heavy with reach schools or bottom heavy with safeties. The objective should be well-balanced list of reach, target and safety schools.
The admission rate of a school is crucial in determining whether it will be a reach, target or safety and it is not necessarily the same for each applicant. Some of the factors that can come into play include grades, class rank, rigor of the transcript, legacy, ethnicity, gender, and sadly - ability to pay. Even the reputation of the high school can influence admission. So yes, a student should have a few reach schools on their list, but the focus should be on schools where being admitted is realistic. This also holds true for those students at the top of their class because even with a stellar academic profile the Ivies should never be considered a safety school.
One’s ability to pay for college should always be part of the creation of a college list as well. A school could be a target or safety yet be among the most expensive to attend. As a rule state schools will be less expensive for in-state students, but don’t not apply to those out-of-state colleges either if they fit your criteria. Experience has shown that with the right qualifications these private out-of-state schools have offered financial aid packages that bring the final cost of tuition even with the state school. Therefore a good college list will include several financially safe schools.
Once the college list has been finalized then it’s time to decide how and when to apply. Today’s students can select from Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), Priority, or Regular Decision (RD). Based on the college list, academic profile and determination, which makes the most sense? Several realities exist with each option: the first is that many colleges fill their incoming freshman classes with candidates from the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) pools; secondly, qualified students are encouraged to apply Priority to state schools while there are more funds available for financial aid packages; and third, highly selective schools only offer Early Decision (ED), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Regular Decision (RD) forcing students to choose. These early application options all have application due dates beginning as early as Oct 15th through to early December so work on those applications must start over the summer.
Note: Early Decision (ED) is not a good idea if you aren’t totally in love with the school. It’s binding and students aren’t able to compare financial aid packages. Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) in very similar to Early Decision as it does not allow an applicant to submit any other early applications, yet isn’t binding. It does, however, offer well qualified students a slight edge over applying RD. Think twice before being tempted to use your SCEA on a reach school as it might not be the best strategy.
Regular Decision has January or February due dates giving students more time to put together a strong competitive application, and if applying to a very selective school might be the only valid option. Ideally, it’s really nice to already have a few acceptances by December which is one of the reasons Early Action is so popular.
Regardless of which schools a student is applying to having a strategy in place will improve the odds of being admitted into their first choice schools. Once an application is submitted to a college the fate of the student is in the hands of the admissions officers, so why not take the time to select colleges and universities where the student’s academic profile, and personality, are a good fit ? This will increase the chances of admission and reduce the disappointments.