College application experience and some tips

College Confidential postings I read were very useful last year when my daughter was applying for colleges (class of 2021-25). So I thought it may be of some use to others if I jot down some of our experience:

  1. My daughter was interested in double majoring in Theater and Math and wanted to apply to both liberal arts colleges and regular universities. We could afford private colleges only if they met most of the financial need, and the safety option was a good in-state public university. She had stats at the higher end, activities that were in the norm, and no hooks.

  2. She applied to 4 liberal arts colleges – Williams (well known for math), Swathmore (closer home), Bowdoin (Math is a popular major here and it gives good financial aid as per net price calculator estimate), and Wesleyan Univ (while being a LAC had a graduate program and so more opportunities in Math and also is very good for theater). She got into Bowdoin and Wes. Surprisingly the ones she showed more interest in were Williams and Swarthmore – as she had also applied for the visit program (Windows in Williams and Disco Swarthmore) but hadn’t got into those. She didn’t apply to such visit programs in Bowdoin/Wes.

  3. I think applying to 3-4 LACs is more prudent than just applying to 1-2 to have a realistic chance of getting into one.

  4. She applied to 7 private colleges Princeton, U Penn, Brown, Yale (Early Action), Duke, Cornell, MIT. She was accepted in Duke and got the Transfer Option into Cornell. She also got into her two safeties which were in-state public univs.

  5. Once again I think it was important to apply to a reasonable number of private colleges, while not making it too many. Every one of these private colleges had additional essays and questions which can stress the students out – but applying to too few also can mean not getting into any. So the right balance needs to be struck.

  6. We used netprice calculator for every college to get an estimate of financial aid – these results turned out to be quite a good estimate of the eventual aid she recd at Duke, Bowdoin and Wes. It is important to provide acuurate figures for income and assets to netprice to obtain a good estimate. The colleges she applied to met full financial need and were needblind (only exception was Wes). They were also all in the east coast, and other than Bowdoin within 7 hours drive.

  7. After a lot of thinking she decided to go to Duke. Double majoring in Theater and Math was difficult at our in-state public university as the requirements for both these majors combined were much more daunting. While at Duke/Bowdoin/Wes this was easier and even encouraged. Duke/Bowdoin met the full financial need and provided a similar amount of aid. Eventually, distance and weather favored Duke as did the argument that there could be more opportunities and diversity at a bigger school.

  8. Her first semester at Duke went well. She did get a lot of opportunities in Theater – she participated in a stand up comedy, she auditioned and got selected for a reasonably big role in the Spring semester’s theater department play, and she finds the professors friendly and caring in all her courses so far. Her first Math course was taught by someone who had done her undergrad at Swarthmore and she liked the pace and friendliness of it. She also has options of doing two-semester sequence courses in Analysis and Algebra at a slightly higher level (or single semester courses), as well as can apply for research opportunities in summer.

  9. Before she applied I did not understand quite what is meant by having a good fit in college applications. I think partly colleges at their end know what they are looking for and how students fit in, and at the student’s end as well over time they learn about the colleges through the process and figure out where they may thrive better.

Best wishes in all your applications!


Was your financial aid award from Wes significantly lower? This recap implies so, which I imagine played a significant role in your thinking.

The way I read that portion of the recap was that Wes was the only one among the three colleges under consideration (Duke, Bowdoin and Wes) that was not need-blind.

#Oshoyu The “financial need” is calculated by each college slightly differently. Wes met the full financial need that it calculated – and it was consistent with what the netprice calculator estimated for Wes.

However, for us, the aid/calculation was slightly better at Bowdoin and Duke compared to Wes (by about $5K). However the aid provided by Wes is also excellent and its calculation may not necessarily be the lower one for all students. That was just for our case.

You would have to enter your & your parents’ financial situation accurately and run the netprice calculator for each institute to get a reasonably good idea of the aid you will get at that instituition.

#circuitrider Yes all other institutions including the 7 private research univs and 3 liberal arts colleges were needblind in their admissions for US applicants.

This wiki page has a listing of colleges based on various combinations of whether the admissions are needblind or not, and whether they meet the full need or not. Need-blind admission - Wikipedia

Thanks for clarifying. I’m a parent, and asked because Wes’s aid for our family was quite generous–though the inclusion of loans is of course a significant burden next to schools such as Bowdoin, which does not incorporate loans into aid packages. (Duke, I believe, still does.)

Yes, Duke’s aid package includes loans but I considered the loan component as something we have to pay rather than as aid. It was the net price I compared.

As defined at this link What is Net Price? The True Cost of College - … Net price is the college’s annual cost of attendance minus the grants, scholarships, tuition waivers and other gift aid a student receives for one year of college. This does not factor in loans. It includes only the forms of financial aid that a student does not have to repay or earn through work.