According to this recent article in US News & World Report, and absolutely from our team’s experience, college applications to the most selective universities are on the rise. The question is, how should soon-to-be-college applicants approach the changing landscape of college admissions?
The best way to handle the very rapid changes we’ve seen is to approach the process intentionally. Here are four tips to help you get better results from your college applications.
S – Show your fit through smart research. Most students throw together their college list based on what they’ve heard, without doing research to see if each college is actually a good FIT for them. Don’t rely on rankings to tell you which college is right for YOU. Think about what your goals are for college – why are you going to college? What environment will make you happy and successful? Do a little introspection before you start adding college names to your list, thinking about what YOU want out of your college experience. We call this phase “looking out and looking in.” After you have a better feel for what you’re looking for, start looking at colleges that fill those priorities. Here’s an article with some suggestions on where you can find colleges to consider as you build a balanced college list. And here’s a short video to help you learn how to extract useful information from each college’s website.
T – Be tactical about the timing of your application. The US News article recommends you apply early. Depending on your past grades and course selection, sometimes that’s the right approach, but not always. This article has more information about the what Early Decision and Early Action really mean (and there are a few other options). Early Decision is binding, and sometimes the highly selective colleges that offer this option admit students at a higher rate in this round than in the regular round. Early Action is not binding; you’ll get your decision earlier, but you don’t have to commit. If you have stellar grades, these early deadlines may be a great option for you. If you need to bump up your GPA a bit to show improvement in the fall of your senior year, early applications may not be right for you.
A – Be aware of the context in which you’ll be evaluated. You may not believe this, but colleges aren’t comparing you against students at other high schools in other parts of the country – they’re comparing you against what you did with the opportunities available to you. This is true both for academic and non-academic activities. Are you planning to be a biology major? Have you taken all of the life science-related courses your school offers, at the most rigorous level? Have you taken any courses at your local community college, to show you are up for the challenge of difficult work? Do your extra-curricular activities line up with what you say you plan to study in college? Colleges will look at all of these things to see how much you’ve challenged yourself, within the context of what was offered. Most colleges get a sense of this context from a document your school will upload with your transcript called a School Profile. More on that here. Your school’s profile is probably on their website – you should find it to see what it says!
R – Be realistic. The increase in applications at the most competitive colleges means that they’re making very, very difficult decisions from among more applicants than ever before. You can see that the admit rate at many highly selective colleges has dropped, just in the past 2 years. This means that applying to a bunch of super-selective colleges could end up being a very unsuccessful strategy – and you’ll be disappointed with your results. The best approach is to go back to step one and do that research. The better you can articulate how well you FIT and how you will CONTRIBUTE to each college in your college applications, the better your chances they’ll invite you to join their community.
Here’s an article on why you shouldn’t apply to all 8 Ivy League schools. And here’s an article, with a video interview with a UCLA statistics professor, that proves applying to multiple highly selective colleges does NOT increase your chance of getting into any of them!
Using the STAR method is likely to yield better results!
If you feel like you need some help, please get in touch. All we think about is college admission! We’re happy to help you find success in your college search and application process.