Zeroing In

College Counseling Blog
Posted on March 28, 2013
by Marisa Ferrara, College Counselor
A major deadline – November 1st – has come and gone with more happiness than angst, though clearly more smiles now than on the days leading up to the first official deadline of application season.  Many final touches on applications were made during that time -  altering punctuation, adjusting word count, editing to be certain an essay question was adequately answered, or coming up with the seemingly perfect word to satisfy a “think quickly” prompt – such as, what final jeopardy category would ensure your victory?

Nevertheless, as all of the pieces continue to fall into place while the days tick away and the college search’s end nears, it is important for seniors to also make final adjustments to their list of colleges.  That said, students should be open to making tweaks along the way and there are myriad reasons.  For example, the student has lost interest and will eliminate a school because they are not compelled enough to complete another writing supplement.  Or maybe, the student is admitted to a first choice school or the contrary, is not admitted, which triggers an addition to their regular deadline list. As you evaluate your list one last time, or get closer to that last look, keep the following in mind:

Your final list should be balanced in terms of admission selectivity.  1-2 reach schools; 3-4 probable schools; 2-3 likely schools.  Be honest in your own assessment of your academic and extracurricular profile. Use the colleges’ websites, Naviance, and a reliable source such as the Fiske Guide To Colleges to see how you compare with those students admitted last year.
  • Take inventory of what each application will entail and create a viable plan and timeline for completing the requirements.  If this to-do list is not manageable, pare down your choices as quality is always better than quantity when it comes to college admission.
  • From the first to the last school on your list, be sure you have good reason for applying to each.  You should have extensive knowledge of the schools and therefore, concrete reasons for why the school is a good fit.  “Just to see if I can get in” is not a good reason.
  • After taking full inventory of each school, you should feel happy to attend any of the schools on your list regardless of whether they are a reach, probable, or a likely school.
  • If financial-aid will be a factor in choosing a college, be sure you have visited the financial-aid website for each school on your list and take the time to utilize the colleges’ net price calculator to ascertain a financial-aid award estimate.
  • For the seniors, it is rewarding to cross this bridge and give yourself a pat on the back.  For students just now beginning the college search and developing their initial list, keep the preceding advice in mind but also see my tip sheet below – Ms. Ferrara’s Ten Suggestions for Creating a Winning College List. It will prove valuable, mostly ensuring later in the process that the above final check and confirmation is an easy one.
  1. Throw away all preconceived notions and recognize and concede your own biases about college–specifically types, styles, locations or name. What has been your frame of reference for evaluating a college? Could you think differently as you begin your search?
  2. Construct your list based on the values, qualities and criteria important to you that you deem would be a good fit based on the personal inventory reflection. Don’t begin with the cherry on top.  In other words, don’t necessarily begin with prestigious or well-known institutions that impress the general public, your parents, your friends, or the editors that create the rankings.
  3. Be willing to consider colleges outside your “comfort zone,” particularly as it relates to geographic location.
  4. Know that the college list will evolve as you change throughout the next few months. The initial list is simply a place to start and your final list will be representative of you.
  5. No more than 9-10 colleges on your final list.
  6. To get there, research, research, research and research more! College websites are most beneficial as are the written guides. Remember to put yourself on the college’s mailing list, particularly if you are intrigued.
  7. Find schools that resemble your high interest colleges, but may be less competitive or don’t have the prestige factor. Don’t become too attached to any one college; there isn’t just one match for you.
  8. Diversify your list so that it includes Reach, Probable, and Likely colleges. And, getting to your final list, you will narrow it to approximately 8 schools, still keeping a balance of schools. Choose a Likely over another Likely or a Reach over another Reach, never choose a Reach over a Probable or a Likely over a Probable.
  9. Take inventory of your reactions to colleges as you research and visit the campuses. Take notes of the how, why, when, what you liked, disliked, and the aspects that made an impression on you. Keep your notes handy so you can review them later. Don’t expect to visit all the colleges on your initial list as that is not the purpose of it. Rather, research thoroughly.
  10. Don’t confuse a college’s admission selectivity, usually a result of its name popularity and recognition or other appeal, with its academic rigor and most importantly, how good a match it might be for you.