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Admissions Strategy Overview

As a high school student planning to go to a top college, you face the daunting task of trying to figure out where to apply. This critical, once-in-a-lifetime decision is made more difficult by the myriad of choices; there are more than 2,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Furthermore, there are a number of subjective factors to consider such as the type of college, its location, size and religious affiliation, and more (see Applying to Colleges to learn more about narrowing down your choices). But even after you narrow down your list of colleges, there is no guarantee of admission. So, it’s prudent to ensure that your list includes reach, likely, and safety colleges.

Go4Ivy can help ensure that you are considering a range of reach, likely, and safety schools based on your chances of getting in. Below is a strategy we recommend for figuring out where to apply.

Step 1: Make an Initial List of Colleges

In your sophomore or junior year, make a list of 20 to 25 colleges based on their location, size, prestige, religious affiliation and other factors. Starting with a large pool of colleges enables you to later eliminate those colleges that no longer fit your preferences and still end up with 6 to 12 colleges to apply to.

Step 2: Get an Initial Chances of Admission Assessment

As soon as you have your first PSAT, ACT or SAT scores, Go4Ivy can provide you with an initial assessment of your chances of admission at the colleges on your list. Knowing your percentage chances of admission will help put your list of colleges in perspective.

Step 3: Group & Evaluate Your List of Colleges

Based on your percentage chances of being accepted, subdivide your list of 20 to 25 colleges into three groups:

  • Reach: 1%-49% chance of admission
  • Likely: 50% to 85% chance of admission
  • Safety: 86%-99% chance of admission

We recommend having at least four colleges in each of the three groups. Make sure that you are considering enough colleges in each category because if your test scores, class rank, and other accomplishments improve from the time of your initial assessment, you may need to re-categorize some of the colleges. For example, a reach school may become a likely school.

Step 4: Research Your Choices

Research the colleges in your pool, so you can evaluate them based on your preferences and eliminate those that do not fit your criteria. To expedite your research, our site features vital information and statistics for the nation's top colleges.

Step 5: Visit Your Top Choice Colleges

If possible, we recommend visiting as many colleges on your list as possible. As you do, continue to rank them in order of your preference within each of the three categories (reach, likely, safety). Although visiting colleges is an important part of the selection process, it can also be time-consuming and expensive. If it is not possible for you to visit a college, you may be able to purchase a campus tour video from an independent company. See Visiting Colleges for advice on campus visits and alternatives.

Step 6: Get Your Final Chances of Admission

During your senior year, after receiving your final SAT and/or ACT scores, class rank, GPA and finalizing the extracurricular activities that you will be submitting to colleges, we recommend getting a final ChancesR™ report to ensure that you have at least four colleges in each of the three categories: stretch, likely and safety, so that you don’t have to hastily add colleges at the last minute.

Step 7: Make Final Admissions Decisions

Select at least two colleges in each category (stretch, likely, safety) to apply to in order to minimize your downside risk. Try to limit the number of schools in the outer ranges. For example, consider applying to no more than one single-digit reach school (i.e. 7%) because such schools do not match your background and achievements well. You may be able to find an equally prestigious reach school where you are a better match and have a better chance of getting in.

Step 8: Prepare to Apply

Before you start your applications, you’ll need to decide what your admissions strategy is. Is there somewhere you want to apply early? Is the decision binding? Does the college accept the Common App?...To help you navigate the admissions process, see Applying to Colleges.

We believe the strategy outlined above will help you identify competitive colleges that are right for you. Go4Ivy can help you by calculating your percentage chances of admission. Get your chances of admission today and know where you stand, so you can make confident, informed decisions about where to apply.

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