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How Can I Help Students Apply to Reach Colleges?

Not all students will get into the college of their dreams. Here's some expert advice on how to help students wanting to apply to reach colleges.

Gail MeyerGail Meyer, LCSW
Certified Educational Planner
Students and their families frequently focus on admission to brand-name colleges and universities rather than schools that meet academic and personal needs. My role is to guide students and their families through the challenges of preparing for and gaining admission to a college or university that will support their academic, social, and personal goals. As an educational consultant, my objective is to simplify the college search process and maximize educational opportunities. I assist families in identifying a student’s strengths, interests, talents, and goals to identify a range of colleges most appropriate for their child. By educating families about the range of educational options available, families learn that many colleges will offer an excellent academic and extracurricular experience for their students.

Anne Macleod WeeksAnne Macleod Weeks
Upper School Director
The Agnes Irwin School
There are a variety of ways to approach this. I never want to completely discourage a student from applying to their “dream” school, but I also want to make sure the student has a balanced list and is happy to attend at least one of their likely admission choices. Using data can help, whether it be a scattergram of past applicants’ results or the specific data published by college guides. What can be most effective, however, is to connect the student to current undergrads and have them talk about the amount of time the student devotes to coursework, what level of performance is expected, and what grading is like. This can send a clear message to the applicant about what they would be facing if admitted.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC
My approach is to be honest with the student and show them the statistics for accepted students. I then suggest that if this college is a real dream of theirs, an application be sent and take a shot. We follow this with a discussion about improving the grades and scores that the student has so that they may improve the chances of admission.

Suzan ReznickSuzan Reznick
The College Connection
I try to offer them a “reality check.” I give them the profiles (academic and extracurricular) of past students who were not accepted to the schools that they were considering. I also try to tell them that what they require, in their college experience, is to have a balance of great academic and social experiences. And I tell them that if they are indeed accepted to one of the more selective schools, they should plan on spending most of their time in the library!

CX experts generic imageHeather Johnson
Educational Consultant
I always talk with students about the selectivity of colleges and that this doesn’t necessarily define what the experience will be somewhere--that is, many schools may seem less “selective” when you look at their admission numbers, but the experience for a student when there can be very challenging and very fulfilling, particularly with honors programs or special programs in their field of study.  I don’t discourage students from applying to one or two “reach” schools if they are really in love with the schools, but I am realistic with them about their profile and discuss other options with them as well.

Susan M. Hanflik, MEd, CEPSusan M. Hanflik, MEd, CEP
Independent Educational Consultant

Our goal is to find a list of eight to 10 schools that are great fits for the student, so even if their top choice isn’t an option, they still have other terrific options. In fact, some students find that by April of their senior year, that “top choice” may not be the one they want to attend. As an independent consultant who travels all over the country, my job is to present the students with options they may not even have considered that will meet their criteria for a great educational experience. I also work very hard to make sure students have a realistic view of their chances for admission. For some students that may be a wake-up call, but I tell students it is the first of many you will have in life. If you are in the mid-50% profile of students who were admitted, 50% of the students who applied with that profile were not admitted. Your job is to put your best foot forward with a great application and recommendation, and that is all you can control. Being open to other options is key to making a successful transition to your next step.

Betsy F. WoolfBetsy F. Woolf
Woolf College Consulting
As the lyric from the show South Pacific goes, “Everyone has to have a dream.” So I don’t like to discourage students from trying for that dream, provided that the rest of the list is balanced and that the student understands that they have a very real chance of not getting into that dream school. But if you don’t try, you certainly will never get in—and you won’t spend your life thinking, “What if I had only tried... ” And I have seen some surprises, so it’s difficult not to encourage a student to follow a dream. At the same time, there are many paths one can take, and I tell my students that, so if a student doesn’t get into their dream school, they will just find another path that is more suitable. I also find that as the process progresses, and students receive their junior year grades and standardized test scores, they become realistic about their chances of admission. Often, they are more realistic than their parents. The idea is to apply only to schools you can see yourself attending, so whether you get into your top choice or your safe school, you'll have a great experience. Once students decide on a particular school, that becomes their reality, and they become caught up in the excitement of planning to attend that school.

K. Patricia AviezerK. Patricia Aviezer, MS

Inside Track To College, Inc.
We would work together to see if there is anything that can be done to "boost" their academics or test results and implement a strategy to help strengthen the possibility of acceptance. It always helps students and their families to understand that the qualities of their top-choice schools can be found in a range of other schools and discuss what exactly they are seeking in a college or university. College lists need to contain these same qualities but offer a broad range of entry requirements.

Stuart NachbarStuart Nachbar
I would need to know more about the student’s interests (academics, important extracurriculars) as well as the type of school they want (location, student body size, emphasis on academics) to begin to match them up with schools where s/he may qualify while incurring as little debt as possible. I also encourage families to look at the opportunities for experiential learning and networking, which should be life-long activities. Some schools, Rutgers University—New Brunswick and Ohio State University being good examples, are located in places where it is relatively easy for students to knock on doors to make connections with alumni and prospective employers. Finally, a family should consider the housing market in the area where the school is located. While students who attend smaller liberal arts schools are more likely to live on campus all four years, those who attend larger schools have different options. At those schools, the majority of students do not live on campus. Students who go to school in a dynamic urban area such as New York City are sent into a very expensive housing market that adds costs and possibly debt. Students who go to school in a more rural area might be able to reduce their costs after freshman year. Ideally, I hope that a student who chooses to go to school away from home has the option of living on campus for at least two years.

Help students put together the best application possible for their top-choice colleges with Our Best Advice for Tackling Your College Applications.

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