The best way to decide which schools—and how many—to apply to is to organize your college list into three categories: reach, core, and safety schools. Use College Navigator to compare your SAT or ACT test scores with last year’s freshmen. Comparing yourself to last year’s incoming class is still the easiest way to assess your situation.
Also, check with your guidance counselor to see if your school subscribes to a college admission support service called Naviance. The software allows you to compare your specific high school’s admissions rates at your top college choices. You can use this information to gage your admission chances and to discover schools you may have overlooked.
In this post, you’ll learn how to boost your chances of admission and aid by applying to schools strategically. To get started you’ll need your SAT or ACT test scores. Alternatively, you can use your PSAT scores.
By comparison, your test scores will play out in one of three ways: above, below or similar to other applicants. This in turn will affect your chances of admission and aid.
The Problem with Reach Schools
A reach school is a school where your test scores are below the 25th percentile for students admitted. Your chances of getting in are slim to none. Even if you do get accepted, you’ll be in the academic bottom of the incoming class. Reach schools typically represent your worst academic and financial fit.
What does this mean for you? Getting into a reach school where you barely qualify is likely to wreak havoc on your family’s finances—assuming that your family needs help paying for college.
That’s because even if you beat the odds and get in, whatever financial aid you get won’t be enough to offset the high cost of college.
Bottom line: Don’t waste your time applying to reach schools, unless your family can afford to pay for it. Click To Tweet This is the one piece of advice you probably aren’t going to hear from your guidance counselor. That’s because your guidance counselor didn’t learn about financial aid and college admissions in graduate school, but I did! Just saying! I’ve got your financial back.
Targeting Core Schools for the Money
A core or match school is a school where your test scores fall between the 25th and 75th percentile of students. The good news is that your chances of getting into a core school are good.
Getting noticed with so many applicants with credentials like yours won't be easy. Click To Tweet If you’re looking for a reason to write a killer college essay, this is it!
Better yet, score between the 67th to 75th percentile to stand out from this crowd. While there are no guarantees, you’re likely to improve your chances of admission even more by rising to the top of this middle heap.
Bottom line: If your scores fall between the 67th to 75th percentile, you are among the top 33% of applicants. Chances are that you will get enough aid to make it affordable—assuming you do get accepted. If that’s your situation, feel free to visit and fall in love with your match schools.
Targeting Safety Schools for the Money
A safety school is a school where your test scores are above the 75th percentile for students admitted. Congratulations! You are among the top 25 percent of applicants. As such you’ll get the most need- and merit-based aid possible.
Safety schools are genuinely eager to have you attend. The golden rule of safety schools is to treat them as you would your top choice school. Click To Tweet Remember, this could very well become your home away from home for the next 4-6 years. That said, it’s important to include only those schools you’ll be happy to attend.
Use net price calculators to find the most generous safety schools and be open to the possibilities.
Bottom line: If you plan on going to graduate school, law school or medical school, and need help paying for college, this could be a no-brainer for you.
You’ll graduate near the top of your class with little or no debt! That’s a savings of roughly $33,000—the equivalent of a car payment for the next 10 years! Or a sizable down payment on a starter home!
Fall in love with a safety school and you won’t have to worry about any of that. While your family and friends are moving back home to live with mom and dad, you could be deciding between a condo, a car or grad school as your next adult move!
Financial Safety Schools Make for Foolproof Plans
Your college list isn’t complete until you have at least one financial safety school you can afford even if you were to get no financial aid. For most people this will be a community college or a public 4-year school in state.
What’s the Takeaway
College is a business. Simply put, the bottom half of incoming freshman pay for the top half. That said, it pays to be in the top 25 percent of applicants!
Unlike those begging entry into schools unlikely to fund them, those in the top 25 percent won’t have to put their adult life on hold for the next 10 years.
That’s because while a safety school doesn’t mean you’ll have a free ride—as those are about as rare as unicorns—it does mean you’ll graduate with little or no debt. These days that’s worth about as much if not more than a unicorn. But don’t take my word for it.
Go ahead and talk to some of your friends and family who turned down scholarships to pay full-price elsewhere. Listen carefully to what they say about what it’s like living day-to-day with the choices they’ve made.
What do you suppose they will think about their choice five years from now when they are still paying off student loans. How about ten years from now? What does your gut tell you about the price of college admission they’ll be paying over the next ten years?
More importantly, what will you think about your decision five years from now? Ten years from now?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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