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Truthful advice about getting into top colleges, for your "average" excellent student

LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,065 Senior Member
I created a thread back in 6/14, when my D was just thinking about college. We didn't have many ideas about what colleges to look at, so I asked CC users to give suggestions. I know now, but didn't realize then, that she is NOT exceptional in any way (except to us, of course:-). Great suggestions poured in, here is the original thread: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1658573-where-do-the-cool-kids-go-to-college-p6.html
To see where she applied, read post #83. To see where she has been accepted, read post #163. She hasn't made her final decision yet. I will update when she does.

Thus began a process of educating us both about the realities of getting into top colleges in America today. At the time, I thought my kid had very good stats. She does, but they are nothing special compared to the Ivy-obsessed students on CC, all wondering how to get into HYPSM. We were learning but still ignorant. We began visiting colleges, and like many people, we looked at the "super hard to get into" ones first. Soon, we realized it was important to look at the "not as hard to get into" ones, which were more difficult to pin down. Eventually, she came up with a list of 12. The list had 2 dream schools, 3 "realistic" reaches, 5 matches, and 2 safeties.

By the time she applied, we were far more educated, but the damage had been done.;-) We had already visited the dream schools, and she liked them. To our credit, we were always knew they were difficult to get into. As we learned more, we began to understand that she had virtually no chance.

A couple of match schools stayed on the list that she really shouldn't have applied to. It became apparent that she had no real interest in them, even if accepted. But they had app fee waivers, so she applied. Apps are a lot of work, so it was wasted time.

Meanwhile, I spent a shocking amount of time on CC and other websites and became more and more informed. Here is the biggest lesson I learned, and I say it sincerely, without envy or bitterness:
Your excellent student, (especially if a white girl, or Asian), in a good school district, with excellent test scores, grades, and a range of ECs is very, very unlikely to get into any school with an acceptance rate under 20%. UNLESS the kid is, or does, something exceptional, or is hooked.

Note what makes these students in our HS "exceptional": U Penn girl, recruited for sport in tenth grade. MIT girl, RD, Intel science contestant. Cornell boys, ED, cool websites that many people used, great students, one Hispanic. Columbia girl, RD, Hispanic, good but not amazing student. Brown guy, ED, truly gifted in many areas, very clever and intellectual. The surprise Harvard guy is a good student, but not stellar. Class pres. He had many very committed ECs that showed his interests. Think it was probably ED and that his great personality must have come through in his essays and recs. Vanderbilt girl, ED, recruited for sport. Now, for the one kid who had nothing "exceptional", except stellar grades and test scores: "Under 15% acceptance rate" LAC girl, RD, valedictorian, Asian, nearly 2400 SAT, denied at all Ivies and Tufts.

My D was accepted to 7 in all, 5 with merit aid. 1 of those was a reach (25% acceptance rate, and her stats were at about the 60th percentile for that school.) She was waitlisted at 3, including her top two "realistic" reaches, and a match school. Denied at the 2 dream schools. She has wonderful choices and is very happy about her results, except for being waitlisted at her top 2. She knows the chances of getting off WL are slim, and will try, (tbh, I don't think she will try that hard), but is proceeding as though that won't happen.

Here is what I hope you can take away from our experience:
Do not let your kid invest all his hopes in a tippy top school, unless something about your child is exceptional, or he has a hook. By all means apply, but ensure your kid understands that he has very little chance of getting in. It is CRITICAL to apply to an appropriate range of colleges. Every year around this time, students post threads called "why didn't I get in anywhere?" The kids are truly shocked, because they usually have great stats and applied to top 20 colleges, assuming that at least one would work out. The more sensible ones applied to maybe one safety that they don't seem to like, but threw in just in case.

Don't waste time and money visiting a lot of reach schools. Your efforts will be much better spent visiting match and safety schools, because there is a good chance your child will end up at one of them. They need to know what the match and safety schools offer and see if they like them. I think in general, we actually did most things right, except for visiting too many reach schools and submitting too many applications. When we do this again with my S in a couple of years, I will especially discourage those two things. I will encourage my S to be committed to a few good ECs, as I think they really do matter. Remember also, good grades and test scores matter, a LOT. I am very sure my D wouldn't have been accepted or waitlisted to her "realistic" reaches if she hadn't had very good test scores. In addition, if my S likes one school above all others, I will encourage the use of the ED card, as long as the school is within the realm of possibility for his stats.

Another last piece of obvious, but overlooked advice: colleges want to admit people they like! Be likable, be genuine, (this applies to the essay especially). Tell your kid to get recs from teachers who really like them, who they like in return. I am sure this is why Harvard kid was accepted. I am actually pretty sure this must be why my D was accepted to her reach school, which had no supplemental essays. Her teachers must have written good recs, and they must have liked her essay. Apart from her test scores and course rigor, we can't think of any other reason why she was accepted. Good luck to all of you as you work through this long and crazy process!

Replies to: Truthful advice about getting into top colleges, for your "average" excellent student

  • delurk1delurk1 Registered User Posts: 223 Junior Member
    The process has been similar with my daughter, who probably applied to too many reaches. I mentioned on another thread that one of the (white) girls at my daughter's school who got into an Ivy has a book coming out with a major publisher. This fits your theory.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,065 Senior Member
    @delurk1 , haha! I like that you are giving my theory credibility.:-) I definitely wish now that I had discouraged at least one of the dream schools, but of course, it was too late. By taking her to visit in the first place, it gave her false hope. In our case, it was not realizing the truth of my "theory", and instead just looking at the stats of admitted students. That was misleading, because on paper, her stats worked.
  • HiToWaMomHiToWaMom Registered User Posts: 1,255 Senior Member
    edited April 2016

    If your child's stats fall into the mid 50% range, say, exactly at 50%, and the acceptance rate of that school is less than 20%, that's a reach school, right?

    How about with the same stats and the acceptance rate is 40%? Then it's a match?

    I'm still struggling with what is considered a reach, a match and a safety (disregarding financial issue).
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,065 Senior Member
    edited April 2016
    @HiToWaMom , OMG, I literally have no clue. I gave up helping my kids with math when they hit 5th grade. I only got out of college because I was able to take "Liberal Studies Math" and met the requirement!

    Sorry @hitowamom I just saw your edit. We used the website college data extensively. We put her stats in and it gave us a range of good bet, maybe, and reach. Because her grades and test scores were high, the only really useful aspect of that was the good bet prediction. We also used college niche, which will plot your kids stats in a scattergram. I beleive parchment will help you do the same.
    For the really top schools though, the data aren't much use, because you MUST have really good grades and test scores anyway. There a many threads on CC that can help clarify what safe, match and reach schools should be, but the basics are safe: your child is well above the 75th percentile. Match, your child is comfortably above 50th but ideally closer to 75 or above, and reach is probably if your child is closer to the 50th, but I am not totally sure.
  • HiToWaMomHiToWaMom Registered User Posts: 1,255 Senior Member
    Hahaha, I hear you.
    Thank you for sharing your experience with your D. Your post really made me think.
  • TheGFGTheGFG Registered User Posts: 6,217 Senior Member
    Did your D make a choice yet?
This discussion has been closed.