Last week, we offered the first four of our eight tips for composing the list of colleges to which you'll apply. Here are four more:
1. Don't limit yourself to schools your relatives have attended. It's the easiest thing in the world to follow in the footsteps of someone you know and love who's been to college and done well there. Jeremy's two brothers both went to the University of Michigan (no doubt they looked up to me or envied my A's). Jeremy's brother's kid is applying to Michigan and University of North Carolina (his mother went there). But people have different personalities, desires, and needs, so just because dad or uncle went to some school doesn't mean it should be on your list. You're the one who'll have to go there, so stand up against family pressure if it's not going in the direction you want.
Best-Kept Secret. At some of the fancier colleges, they have what they call "legacy admissions." In street language, what this means is that if your parent went to the college, you have a better chance of getting in. If your parent is recommending you apply to the school he or she attended—and if the school has such a program—you might get into a better school than you were otherwise able to get into. Ask the school to find out the facts.
2. Don't pick colleges by the football rankings. You wouldn't believe it, but many high school students (especially guys) and parents (especially dads) put schools on the list because they have good football programs. Here are the top five schools in the 2010 ESPN football rankings: Florida, Texas, Alabama, Auburn, and Oklahoma. Here are the top 5 national universities in U.S. News's America's Best Colleges rankings: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cal Tech, and MIT. Notice any differences? (Of course, if you're planning to be on the football team, that's another story.)
3. Don't be overoptimistic about your chances. It's much harder to get into colleges (including state universities) than it once was. At Binghamton University, for example, only 10 percent of those who applied got in. There are many reasons for the glut of applicants; among them: ease of applying online, difficulty in getting jobs pushes more students into college, and perceived value of getting a college degree for future employment. Whatever the reason, it's much harder to get in than it was even a few years ago—and certainly from when your parents last applied.
Most colleges tell you on their website the percentage of applicants who get accepted and the range of grades and board scores of those who do. (If not, check one of the college print guides.) If you have grades and board scores at the bottom of the range, don't count on getting in. While it's true that some people actually got in with those scores, not everyone with those scores did—otherwise the range would be lower. And the ones that got in might have something special about them, like playing the oboe, and happening to apply the year after all the oboe players in the orchestra graduated. No kidding—this kind of stuff really happens.
4. Consider the finances—realistically. Some folks have been known to apply to prestigious schools that they couldn't really afford, with the idea that if they got in, they would somehow find a way to pay for it. This works fine if you get rejected, but can be upsetting if you actually get in and then realize you can't swing it. Avoid including schools on your list that really and truly are out of your price range.
Got a tip or story about applying to college? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear your experiences.
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