College Counseling & Planning      Orleans, MA. (774) 801-2449      Ashland, OR. (541) 488-0919
Last fall, when our oldest started his senior year of high school, my husband and I quickly realized we were...more
--Sara DeVries, mother of Blake, College of the Holy Cross, 2018

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APPLYING TO COLLEGE MEANS EXPANDING YOUR HORIZONSSenior year is finally here! Seniors are full of confidence, finally having reached top dog status, so why do they feel like they have the weight of world on their back? Why, because just a few short months ago they watched the seniors of last year start full of confidence and high hopes as they applied to the colleges of their dreams only to find numerous rejection letters in their mailboxes in the spring. Will that be their fate?

What is so tough about getting into college and why is there so much stress? Why do A students fear that they won't be accepted at the college of their choice, and why do B students feel certain that no college will accept them? The reason is that there is a mismatch between perception and reality. There is no question that acceptance to many of the top tier colleges and universities has become much more competitive. The Ivies and almost Ivies are turning away hundreds of extremely qualified students. This is a fact. It is also a fact that too many B students watching this phenomenon often assume that their only choice will be a state school or a school of lesser quality than they had hoped for. That is the perception. It is difficult for many students and their parents to believe that a vast majority of colleges and universities accept more than half of the students who apply. That is the reality. The important point to be made is that these are excellent schools with professors whose mission in life is to teach, where there is a strong sense of community, where there is an academic environment that nurturers a student's intellectual curiosity, and a social climate that encourages a student to mature. A big mistake made by many is to equate selectivity with quality, according to Loren Pope, author of Colleges That Change Lives - a must read for those who are willing to reach beyond the household college names. The 40 or so colleges featured in this book accept most of their applicants and yet produce a disproportionate share of budding PhDs.

Accepting the reality that there are many colleges that will accept many of their applicants still does not solve the dilemma of matching your expectations with the colleges that might accept you. One of the first ways to determine this is to look at the "25th to 75th percentile" that most colleges publish. This is a breakdown of how many kids arrived at that school from the top of their high school class - along with test scores of the current freshmen. What this means is if, for instance, a school's SAT range is 1100-to-1300 then half of the freshmen scored between those end points, a quarter scored lower, and a quarter scored higher. (This is based on the old SAT test with its 1600 maximum score. Schools are just now publishing these parameters based on the new SAT test with its 2400 maximum score.) Looking at these statistics can help to determine if the school is a 'reach,' a 'probable,' or a 'safety' school.

Grade point averages is another way, although a little more difficult, because each college has a different method for calculating the GPA. Their published figures often reflect some sort of weighting system. Some colleges use the weighting system of the high school and some re-calculate the GPA and eliminate all of the nonacademic courses. Even so, if your test scores and recalculated GPA do not fit the school's profile, all is not lost. Most colleges, especially smaller private ones, have a list of other characteristics that they look for in an applicant, including strength of the academic transcript, community service, special talents, leadership ability, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, work experience, interviews and, of course last but not least, the quality of the essay.

Open your college search beyond the name brands and prestigious colleges and your mailbox will be your favorite place to hang out come next spring.

Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants