Popular myth holds that on a particular final, a particular philosophy professor put a particularly cheeky question on the test for extra credit—“Why?” That’s all! Most students were baffled and left it blank. Some mustered up long responses, postulating at great lengths. Yet only one student received extra credit for her response. The student wrote, “Why not?” Insightful, funny, and flippant just like the original question. So when you ask, “Why should I apply to a 'reach' school?” I say to you, “Why not!”
A reach school is one for which you barely meet the admission requirements. When you look at a student profile from the school, your class rank, GPA, and test scores are on the low end of the spectrum. The chance of getting in is remote—but not impossible.
All top-tier schools are reach schools, since perfect grades and test scores are often not enough to gain acceptance. Just look at Yale's SAT scores to realize that everyone is reaching for Yale. But for many students, a reach school may be a private school with a great fine arts program, or a state school with an amazing engineering program.
Whatever your reach schools are, make it a point to apply. You won’t regret it, and here’s why.
You might get in
Don’t count yourself out of the running just because you happen to be below the average. No one fully understands the application selection process, but we do know that schools consider a lot of data points when deciding to accept or reject a student. Some of these are public knowledge and some are kept behind closed doors. All that means for you is that there might be other aspects of your application or your character that can sway an admission committee. So no backing out! :)
It improves your other applications
Working on a reach school application has fringe benefits that bleed into your other applications. Reach schools demand a little more from us. We have to put a little more time into answering questions and writing our essays. You’ll remember points to include in your other essays and realize that there is more that you can add to your short responses. The mere fact that you are applying to a reach school usually makes you more critical of what you have written and what you submit. And this transfers to your other applications, as you will craft better responses that can inform, or be used in, other applications.
Regret—don’t need that
To regret is to suffer. When we regret, we wish for a moment lost, a time wasted, an opportunity left on the table. All of this takes us out of the now and plops us down somewhere in the past. Don’t let regret cloud your future. Don’t let the Harvard SAT scores be the only reason you didn’t apply to Harvard. It’s better to apply and be rejected than to not apply and live with regret. Apply! You’ll gain valuable experience and maybe a good story for when you apply for graduate school at Harvard after you finish your undergraduate degree.
Aim for the sky and you'll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you'll stay on the floor. — William "Bill" Shankly, Scottish soccer player and manager, considered one of soccer's greatest coaches
Often we falter and fall short of our goals. But not reaching your goals is not the same as failing, especially if you are smart about the goals.
Companies set stretch goals (B.H.A.G.s—Big Hairy Audacious Goals) hoping to attain them but knowing that falling short of them will be a great achievement too. Swimmers set hard-to-achieve times, always aiming to beat their personal best, knowing that this is the only way to push beyond the status quo. Some students find that their goals for the PSAT versus the SAT were quite different once they knew how they were performing. The smart ones set an SAT score goal way beyond their PSAT score so that when and if they fall short, they are still way above their previous test.
The same goes for applying to college. Aim for the sky, and you’ll break into schools you didn’t think you could get into. Set audacious goals to live an audacious life that will surprise even you.