Competitive College Applications – Evaluating Your Chance of Getting In
Creating compelling college applications, and therefore getting into college, is all about making a diverse list of prospective colleges you might want to attend, organizing your traits and academic qualities—in other words, knowing what sets you apart from other applicants—and applying to range of schools according to your chance of admission.
Creating your college list
This is the “easy” part — just compile a list of schools you want to go to. The list should include schools that you’re likely to be admitted into and ones that might be more of a long shot. In other words, colleges with the lowest acceptance rates as well as colleges with high acceptance rates. At this stage in the process you’re not worried about being accepting or what it takes to be a successful applicant, or even what the selection standards are. You’re simply creating a list of school you’d want to attend.
At this stage you need to evaluate your academic performance as it relates to your admission potential: the subjects you’ve studied, the level at which you studied them, and your grades. You also should evaluate what an admissions office might call “the personal side”—your achievements outside of the class, talents, service to others, and character traits. The best way of doing this is thinking about your resume and using it to explain “who you are” as a person. This is where you sit down and figure out what sets you apart from other applicants. Why? Because successful applicants are often those who best express how they’re different from everyone else.
Now comes the hard part: making a rough comparison of how your credentials compare to the admissions standards of the colleges on your list. High acceptance rate colleges will have lower standards while colleges with the lowest acceptance rates will have higher standards. There are some websites (like Collegedata.com) that do a decent job of this for you. Your high school guidance counselor may also have a software program that plots the GPA/SAT scores of recent graduates in relation to whether or not they were accepted at various colleges, which can be a useful tool.
The next step is crucial — reorganizing your initial list (most likely adding and subtracting schools) based on your chances of being accepted. Organize your schools into the following categories:
- Solid Safety. Your record is a lot better than the typical student at that school—you have a greater than a 80% chance of admittance. High acceptance rate colleges usually fall into this category.
- Strong Match. Your record is somewhat better than the typical student—you have a 60-80% chance of being admitted. High acceptance rate colleges may also fall into this category.
- Match. Your record is similar to that of the typical admitted freshman—you have a 40-60% chance of being accepted.
- Weak Match. Your record is somewhat weaker—you have a 20-40% chance. Some of the colleges with the lowest acceptance rates will probably fall into this category.
- Long Shot. Your record is a lot weaker—you have less than a 20% chance. Colleges with the lowest acceptance rates will most often fall into this category, though that depends on your academic history.
You should have at least one school, preferably more, in each category, with the highest number of schools in the Strong Match, Match, and Weak Match categories. If that’s not the case, you should re-evaluate which schools you plan on applying to, adding and removing schools as needed.
What this means for your money:
As a general rule, colleges that give merit aid (sometimes known as tuition discounts) award them to the top 20% of their applicants, meaning you’re more likely to get aid from a strong match or safety school than the other schools on your list.
How to use this list to improve your application:
The point of this list is to understand what kind of students each school is looking for, which will help you convince them that you are, in fact, that student. Weak matches and long shots, for example, may be unlikely to admit you based solely on your academic record (especially if you don’t meet their admissions standards), so you might consider focusing more on your personal achievements and everything you’ve done outside of the classroom—on your personal statement, for example. In other words, focusing specifically on what sets you apart from other applicants. That way you may still have a chance of being accepted. But keeping strong matches and matches on your list means you always have a backup plan.
Applications and Admissions
- Choosing Colleges Home
- College Acceptance Letters
- College Admissions Advice
- Considering the Cost of College in the Admissions Decision
- Different Children Take Different Approaches to the College Application Process
- Early Decision Applications
- Leadership Development and College Applications
- Making the transition from high school to college
- Nagging About College Applications
- Organizing the Application Process
- Your Academic Resume