High school juniors enter the college process with a great range of knowledge about where to apply. You might have people in your life like older siblings, friends, or parents who have opinions on colleges. Many students are familiar with the schools in their city or state, while others want to leave home. Or maybe you have no idea where you should apply! No matter how much you do or don’t know about your options, you should keep an open mind and do thoughtful research to develop your college list. The next step will be to sort this list into the categories of “reach” “target” and “likely.”
First, you will need to figure out your criteria for applying to schools. What is important to you? Think about aspects like academics, location, social life, and financial options. For example, some students want to end up within a hundred-mile radius of their family or stay in-state. Others will only be interested in schools with strong engineering programs, Japanese language classes, or prominent music departments. You should also think about what size school you will feel most comfortable in, whether that is small (less than 5,000 students), medium (5,000 to 15,000) or large (over 15,000 students). Are you interested in participating in Greek Life? Is there a specific extracurricular you’re excited to join? Are athletics important to you?
Consider all these factors, and then start finding schools that fit your criteria. There are many ways to discover colleges you might not have thought of; with a little research, you can find many books and websites with suggestions of schools that fit your requirements. You could look at a database like College Board where you can enter in different requirements to find colleges. Your final list does not need any more than 10 to 15 schools. Furthermore, you should not have any schools on your list that you would not be happy to attend if accepted. Remember that just because a school is more “prestigious,” or has higher name recognition, does not automatically make it a better fit for you. The best school for you is the one that suits all of your needs and provides a great education.
The last step is to sort your list into “reach” “target” and “likely” schools. Of course, you cannot know for certain what your likelihood of admission is, but there are ways to make an educated guess. The general question you need to ask if “What are the college’s criteria for admission, and how does my application compare to others?” College admissions offices usually publish the data on admitted applicants’ test scores and GPAs, and you can find this information through google. Holistic admissions processes, which are more common nowadays and look at information besides just these scores, make it more difficult to estimate your chances at admission, but you can still take a guess.
The general rule is as follows:
If your test scores and GPA are much stronger than the average admitted student, you can list this school as “likely”.
If your test scores and GPA are about the same as the average admitted student, you can list this school as a “target.”
If your test scores and GPA are much lower than the average admitted student, you can list this school as “reach.”
Highly competitive schools are defined as having admission rates of around 30% or lower. With these schools, you cannot count on being accepted even if you are in the highest percentile of test scores and grades. Because there are so many applicants, these schools have to reject many worthy students based on complicated factors. This is why you do not put all your eggs in one basket and apply to a good variety of schools.