Advice for Class of 2026 Applicants

I have finally finished the college process. I wish I knew a lot of things. Couldn’t afford a college counselor. I think it’s messed up seeing the disparity in college decisions between those could vs couldn’t afford college counselors. So here is my advice.

  1. If you know/think you are going to be on a pre-professional track (pre-vet, pre-med, pre-law) you can pretty much be ANY major in undergrad as long as you fill out the requirements. Therefore, do NOT limit yourself to schools that only have an Animal Science or Pre-Vet major, for instance, because your list will be VERY limited to pretty much only huge state schools. Don’t be afraid to apply to a school that doesn’t have that exact major. Though majoring in a pre prof major does have its perks, do not under any circumstances overlook all the other aspects of a college (LOCATION, vibe, etc) simply because it doesn’t have a pre-prof major.
  2. LOCATION is more important than you think. Or maybe I’m the only one who underestimated this. Because seriously, you are going to be LIVING at this place for some time and you wanna make sure that there is stuff to do there that is of interest to you. I can’t emphasize this enough. Please consider location!!!
  3. Try and get your common app essay done over the summer, and try to write it like any other English essay (at least for me, I psyched myself out and I think if I had just treated it like a normal English assignment I would’ve been better off)
  4. Acceptance rates are PLUMMETING. Really visualize your rejections because it will save you some hurt. Apply to top schools that you like but ALSO apply to SAFETIES THAT YOU LIKE (!!!) and make sure that everywhere you apply is somewhere you would be excited to go to. I recommend applying to around 12 schools. ONLY APPLY TO SCHOOLS THAT YOU LIKE. please.
  5. No one tells you this… CHOOSING WHICH COLLEGE YOU COMMIT TO CAN BE THE MOST STRESSFUL PART (especially if you are unable to visit campuses cuz of covid). Literally I had like so many panic attacks during the last weeks of April because of the decision. You will get your decisions back by late March-ish (this year the last of them were in early April) and then in one month’s time, you will need to commit to one of them. As soon as you get your decisions, start making pro and con lists and eliminating options so that, by your last decision, you are working within a smaller pool of choices. On a realistic note, this is probably one of the biggest decisions that you have ever made (and one that I personally think is too big of a decision for 17 y/os or 18 y/os) so you don’t want it to be rushed.
  1. In April, once you have all your decisions and maybe even have chosen the school, there is a very real possibility that you will feel scared and overwhelmed and disappointed and regretful and not very excited to go to college. Meanwhile, virtually everyone else will seem VERY excited to leave for college. You might feel lonely because of this fact or misunderstood. LISTEN TO YOUR FEELINGS and no one else’s. Maybe you aren’t ready to leave the nest quite yet, and that is really truly okay. You are still VERY YOUNG!!! Again, you never want to rush a decision that is so impactful. A gap year is a great thing and almost no one who takes one regrets it. ---- at the same time, though, remember that everyone may seem very happy with the college they’re going to and seem excited but they are all at least a LITTLE scared ---- I’m actually taking a gap year myself and then going to Amherst as class of 2026 so perhaps I’ll see some of you there. At the end of my gap year, I will be sure to post my advice relating to that because as you can see I love giving advice.
  2. Once you get accepted to places, I recommend reaching out to people on Facebook and Instagram (I personally really don’t like Snapchat but I know a lot of people talk on there too). For a while I had this idea in my head that I didn’t want to talk to people or post in the groups but it’s actually really fun and entertaining and who cares if it’s scary!!
  3. International schools (at least in Canada) are much cheaper and in hindsight, it would’ve been cool to apply to one of those.
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  1. It really will all be okay. I didn’t get into my top choice, or my second choice or my third choice or my fourth choice. and so on. College in and of itself is an entirely new experience that will be full of growth anywhere you go. Having grown up in a town that is very academically competitive, I now see how skewed my perception of college was. It was only after applying that I realized that this was not just a high-stakes competition to see if you could get into the school with the lowest acceptance rate, but this is a decision of where you will live, what you will learn, who you will be surrounded by. You are choosing your experience. You are choosing what your life will look and feel like.
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The Average rate of acceptance in 2002 was 70%, in 2004 was 71.3%, in 2010 was 65.5%, and in 2019 it was 66.7%.

So no, acceptance rates are not “PLUMMETING”.

ONLY to a small number of the most popular colleges. For the vast majority of colleges, acceptance rates are the same or rising. There are perhaps 100 universities and colleges which have had a pattern of continuous increases in applications, and consequently a drop in acceptance rates. The rest of the colleges, at which 95% of graduating seniors enroll, have either flat/fluctuating acceptance rates or increasing acceptance rates.

So there is absolutely no reason to panic, unless you happen to believe “T20 or Bust”, in which case, my condolences.

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Figure out your criteria and make a list. Size. Weather. Greek. Focused majors or many majors

Ensure you know you financial need. If you have none but don’t want to pay $80k a year then include a lot of schools that have merit.

Apply to a lot. Many require no extra essays. Those that do can often be recycled. If you get on school email lists many will waive app fees and many have no fees

Niche is a great source. For example if you want to major in engineering google niche + engineering. If you care about dirks niche + dorms. If you don’t want to pay app fees niche + no application fees.

We bought a book. Barron’s guide to colleges. Once we set our criteria we went state by state as my daughter dudnt want to limit

Got on all the lists

U need to learn who tracks demonstrated interest. That’s a whole other discussion

Once u make a list pick a city. Go visit a large. Medium and small school of unsure. Just walk around. Get the vibe.

Good luck

For everything but rankings.

I continuously find it weird that despite sitting on a veritable treasure trove of information, Niche’s rankings range from questionable to downright bizarre - they rank Tufts as higher than UIUC and Georgetown higher than Purdue in CS, and I will never forget how they ranked Stanford as “Best College Near a Beach”, and UCLA as “Best Campus”…

There are no good ranking lists. The most prominent ranking list is USNews. But their ranking, for CS undergrad at least, is based on academics at each college rating their peers. This leads to a very skewed ranking because academic people rate their peers based on their research output. The quality of teaching, student opinions, or employer perception does not figure into this ranking. So for example, Cal Poly SLO appears at #87 in the USNews list for CS undergrad schools, but if you look at where Google gets their employees Cal Poly is in the top 20 schools. Cal Poly is well regarded by employers as well as by students who go there, but you wouldn’t know that from USNews ranking.

What that means is that you could use the USNews as a starting point, but then you have to do your own research: (1) Where do top companies get their employees from? (2) What do students who attend the school think of their school? And (3), if you know about CS courses, compare the course catalog.

The 20 Schools With the Most Alumni at Google (businessinsider.com)

I only mentioned niche because they rate so much or it’s a great source, for say, schools that charge no app fee. To me, especially with schools allowing you to self report test scores, there’s little reason not to apply to a lot of schools. If you plan to apply to 8, why not do another 8 with no app fee and no extra essays…find schools that will offer aid and could meet your need. Others may have an essay but you can likely swap from another you wrote.

I didn’t mention niche as a source of best school. Just for the subsets. They have many.

Their comment is still relevant as most people on this website focus on said small group of schools. Many T50 universities and top LACs are people’s goal schools, as you know, so it is important to consider this year’s drop in acceptances when targeting those extremes.

Since this is supposed to be a thread for advice, that advice should include be the reminder that the colleges with which many people on this site are obsessed are a small fraction of all available colleges.

Their comment may be relevant, but it is highly inaccurate, and feeds into an unhealthy obsession with this small number of colleges, and the unhealthy attitude that these 50 or so colleges are the only colleges that exist in the USA.

This is the attitude that has hundreds to thousands of kids being absolutely devastated because they weren’t accepted into one of these colleges. This is the attitude that drives kids to lifelong anxiety, to depression and even suicide because of the constant pressure of fulfilling the perceived requirements for acceptance to “A Top University”.

So any advice that reminds kids and parents that there are far more colleges out there than those 50 colleges is good advice, and it should clearly be here.

Your comment just highlights my intended point. Students targeting hard to reach schools need to be realistic about almost unattainable admissions rates, as said schools have. These schools DO have rapidly declining admissions rates, so it is good advice to say what the OP said.

In that case, that advice should be qualified. It is extremely stressful for a student or parent coming here for advice to read “ACCEPTANCE RATES ARE PLUMMETING” all in caps, without some clear qualifier like “in the 50 or so most popular colleges”.

I saw it as a glaring omission in otherwise great advice, which was why I added that qualifier.

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Some parents move to areas with better schools in order to give their kids an advantage. This may seem like a sensible thing to do, but because of the weird admissions process in US colleges, this may actually work against the kid. It may make more sense to move to an area where the kid can stand out, where schools offer fewer AP courses, and where the same accomplishment is considered to be a bigger deal. See link below for details.

Excerpts from the story:

UC admissions directors stressed that they evaluated students in the context of their own schools and communities to assess how much they challenged themselves and took advantage of available opportunities. A student who took all six AP classes offered at her school might be more impressive than the one who took six at a school that offered twice as many.

A campus might admit a student with a 4.0 GPA who ranked at the top of an underserved school over one with a higher GPA but lower class rank at a more high-achieving school.