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This is an important thread. Thanks for starting it, Tokenadult.
This topic was a bit of a hair-raiser in our house, b/c our flagship U, which is not a guaranteed safety anymore, does have an early non-binding notification if the application is in by Nov 1. We visited the school, and DS HATED it. Too big. No way, Refused to apply. Didn't want to have to be in an honors program. The school he decided to use as his safety is expensive, and *way* more expensive than our state school. Fortunately the safety came in with merit money, and it is a school he really likes (and will probably attend) but this was a tough issue. Both his safety and our flagship U are very good schools- but the pricetag is very different. Oh, and guess what. the school he will likely be attending?? He'll be in the honors program! Part of me wishes we'd made him apply to the state U just to see if it would have been another option.. since these kids do change their minds frequently.
problem is that all four of your requirements, accessibility, price etc, . . . are usually not present for most
applicants especially low income ones
Find a sure-bet college for admission. Love it. Apply to it early.