Applying to College: Be Fearless and Reach

See Dean talk about applying to college on FOX 25 News!



In a recent New York Times article, David Leonhardt explained current SAT analysis that said  high-performing, low-income students are choosing not to apply for admission to the country’s most prestigious colleges. Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom-fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective prestigious colleges, compared to 78 percent of the highest income students.  This is a tragedy.

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The most unfortunate part of this study study is that it shows these top students are not using the strategy of applying to college—applying to a “safety” school, a “match” school and at least one “reach or stretch” schools. Because of this, these bright students end up aiming low and miss out on an opportunity to attend more selective or prestigious college or university.

students applying to college

The result of not aiming high enough is that more than half of these students are attending a school that is not challenging enough, or the right fit. These bright minds may have a harder time thriving in college, and may not make the most of their potential.

All students should have access to the best education possible, and I find it troubling that students are not aware of the opportunities at these schools. Many students are not aware of the financial aid options offered by top universities, like Harvard. Though these colleges are some of the most expensive, they also offer the most competitive financial aid packages.

Adjusting Your Strategy for Applying to College

Many students think they can’t afford a ‘fancy’ college.  However, many of these colleges’ admissions are “need blind,” which means they will accept a student regardless of a student’s ability to pay. In many cases, these colleges will fill the gap between the tuition costs and what the family can afford with grants or other financial aid.

We know on that one of the top reasons someone chooses a specific college is because they have a friend who attends that school. Students go to colleges that they know about, and these are often the ones close to home. Many of these students have never met anyone who has attended one of the most selective colleges, especially the smaller or less popular colleges.

The highest-performing low-income students are applying to college closer to home, including community colleges and four-year state colleges. These colleges often have fewer resources and lower graduation rates than the more prestigious schools.

Instead of assuming that you can’t get in or the school is too far away, or too expensive, it is important to be fearless with your college application strategy.

3 Things Students Need to Consider when Applying to College

  1. Applying to at least one “safety school” – a school where you have a very high chance of being accepted.
  2. Applying to a least one “target school”, where you can both get in, and succeed.
  3. Applying to a “stretch, or reach”, school – a school that may be far away or exclusive, but could award you more opportunities, and may have more generous financial aid packages.

In college applications, it’s important to be responsible, but it’s also important to dream big. Apply to at least one school that is out of your comfort zone. You will never know if you don’t apply.

Finding out More

We live in the age of information – search/research online.  Think about looking for a college as seriously as finding a job. Many websites and magazines discuss some of the best schools in the country. Students should take this information seriously and should be considering applying to these colleges.

If students are lost on where to start, is one of the best places to find accurate and anecdotal information about colleges. Many students don’t apply to certain colleges because they just don’t know that they exist. By using StudentAdvisor, students can determine the qualities they are looking for through college match, and read actual student reviews, and learn more about the financial aid that these colleges provide. They can also compare colleges to one another, and get in touch with admissions advisors from colleges they are most interested in. Applying to college should be about more than just location – it should be about fit.

The brightest minds are not just found in the more affluent suburbs.  We need to utilize all the talent the country has to offer.