Dear Miss School Manners: Our neighborhood is buzzing about the girl who applied to 30 colleges and got into none. 30! 30!!! With odds like that, what chance does my kid have of getting in anywhere? Signed, Losing It In Lafayette
Dear Losing It: We would so like to tell you that’s an urban legend. But take a deep breath anyway. While it’s true it has become harder to get into elite universities, that’s not necessarily what happened to your unfortunate neighbor. So, first a word about the current college admissions climate. Then, some practical advice…
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What you’re seeing is a numbers game fueled by the largest number of college applicants in history – with no appreciable increase in the number of freshman slots available. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the number of high school graduates has been on a steady rise since 1996 and the US Department of Education says we won’t see those numbers falter until at least 2013. More international students are applying too. The Common Application (an online form that makes it easy to apply to multiple schools at once) means applicants who once submitted their academic credentials to 3 or 4 universities, now send it to a dozen or more with a swipe of their Visa card. And to top it all off, you’ve got the insidious pressure of the US News & World Report’s college rankings – the more students a college rejects, the more “selective” it appears. Boost the number of applicants and a school automatically becomes “more selective.” So after a childhood of being told you can be anything you want to be – Reach for the stars! If you believe it, you can be it! – we now have college recruiters adding their two cents: “If you don’t apply, you’ll never know if you were Ivy League material.”
Maybe so, but there’s a case to be made for realistic expectations. Middling grades and so-so SATs do not a Harvard scholar make, nor Brown, nor Yale, nor Claremont-McKenna, nor Stanford, nor Cal. Apply to 30 dream schools, and you face the very real potential of reaping 30 rejections. That’s a harsh blow for anyone, but especially for a starry-eyed high school senior.
So ignore the US News & World Report lists. Ignore those clueless fellow parents who keep chirping about “top tier” schools. And focus instead on what schools would be a good match for your teen. Tour campuses, gauge their offerings, and look at their incoming freshman profiles – most colleges list their incoming students’ average GPA and SAT on their web sites. Or check the CollegeBoard.com site.
Then have your senior compile a list of prospective schools – a few “reach” schools, because indeed, you don’t know if you don’t try; a few that feel like good fits, where their GPA and SAT match or slightly exceed those of their incoming class; and a set of “safeties,” schools that they’d be perfectly happy attending and that they are very certain would love to have them. Every school is becoming more selective, but you can hedge your bets by being realistic, doing your homework and not letting rosy visions or parental peer pressure – “My Johnny is applying to 30 top tier schools!” cloud your judgment.
Enough with those blasted Ivies, anyway. We’re compiling a list of the best overlooked colleges – great schools with wonderful programs and happy students. Nominate your favorite university by clicking “comments” and typing in a brief description. (There’s a new batch of college apps survival books on the market. Add your e-mail address – don’t worry, it won’t appear on your post – and we’ll send the first bunch of you a copy.)