Help the world's pickiest girl correct her misconceptions and build a college list!

OP- agree with the advice earlier to get a granular number from both parents before you get too far along in the process. Without knowing your budget you’re going to chew up a lot of time and energy. And even merit schools- if you can’t afford what the colleges leave on the table for you to pay, you’ll get pretty frustrated pretty quickly.


A lot of good (and pricey) suggestions on this thread. I agree with others that you have to get a concrete understanding of what your financials will look like. The worst thing you can do is guess at how much each parent may be willing to give. You don’t want to end up a year from now, with a panic post about how you can’t afford any of the schools you got into - nor do you want the subject of the post to be that you were denied admission to a big list of high-reach schools.

I would advise reading the Class of 2021/2025 admissions posts for any of the schools you are interested in, so you can get a sense of the stats that were required for admission this year (along with the sobering list of high stats that saw rejections).

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I may have missed it, but did the OP provides grades, scores, etc? There are a lot of reach schools (reach for even the best students) being bandied about.



my financial situation is super complex (divorced parents, complex asset situation, large discrepancy between custodial and noncustodial income)…My noncustodial parent isn’t very cooperative with college stuff, but they’re still involved in my life.

Essentially, I have no clue what to expect from colleges in terms of aid… I really want to try filling out an NPC.

I just think that in general, I’d prefer either to pay a lot to go to a top school, or pay little to go to a safety. The in between is iffy.

If your noncustodial parent makes a lot of money and has assets but “isn’t cooperative with college stuff” you aren’t likely to get aid at schools that use the CSS profile financial aid form. I don’t think the NPCs aren’t accurate for divorced parents or those with “complex asset situations,” so it’s important that you have a couple of financial safeties on your list. You won’t be able to borrow more than ~$5500/year on your own and it’s not a good idea to take large cosigned loans, so unless your parents are willing to contribute or your stats make you eligible for a lot of merit aid paying for a top school may not be an option.

It appears that right now you’re looking for fit. That’s really fun, but if budget ends up being an issue then it’s eating up time that could be better spent on other things.

You need a firm budget. Your current budget is about $8k (the ~$5500/year federal student loan + ~$3k or so if you work summers). You need to know if your parents willing to add to that. Ask both of them directly how much they’re willing/able to contribute per year.

If you can get a firm budget and are willing to post your stats people can suggest realistic options. Building a list from the foundation up (safeties first, then matches and reaches) is important, especially when financial situations are complex. But it can be done. We just need more information before we can really help you.


Wow, you did not lie about picky :stuck_out_tongue:

I say this without judgment or any kind of frustration or anger: a lot of schools you have removed, you removed based on stereotypes rather than what these schools are actually like. I won’t go into depth about most of these schools since I don’t want to risk misrepresenting them, but I am a Dartmouth student (and, surprise, one who isn’t planning on joining a frat), so I will do so for Dartmouth.

However, on a quick review of your rejected schools;
Johns Hopkins has plenty of non premeds
Brown is not as weed focused as popular opinion seems to think it is, and has plenty of non activists (though I did not have it on my list since, like you, I like more structure than the open curriculum provides)
WashU is certainly not only for rich people - and in fact has an above average financial aid program
UMiami has plenty of people who aren’t the hottest you’ve ever met. Not that you’d learn that from their outreach material.

Now let’s get on to Dartmouth. I applied ED to Dartmouth because, along with Princeton and Brown, it is one of the only undergrad-focused research universities in the US. That means it combines the small class sizes, personal attention directly from professors, and sense of community (Dartmouth perhaps is the best at this last one) of a small liberal arts college with the relatively large research presence and skilled faculty engaging in high-level research of a research university. For that reason, I believe it should be seriously considered by any skilled applicant.

As to greek life, I’m going to attach a response I gave someone else (warning, it’s long):
Hey! To be clear, every elite school had a frat centric or finals club centric social atmosphere of something of that nature like 40 years ago. It was just very white guy dominated at the time. Dartmouth is only known for it due to the Animal House movie, based on a now ended frat.

In the last few decades, finals/eating clubs and frats have reformed at top institutions, and Dartmouth has really led the way on that. We had to, since that ridiculously overexaggerated movie made us unfairly well known for greek life.

As a result, unlike most schools, almost all parties and events at frats have become open to everyone with a Dartmouth ID. This is important, since these spaces cannot be dominated any longer by the same demographic. Places like finals clubs at Princeton on the other hand, are largely exclusive i.e. you need to know someone on the inside to get into events.

Furthermore, a lot of frats have changed or popped up which are very different from traditional frats. Many are just like student societies, focused on social justice, or playing board games or video games together. The general use of the term greek life does not really represent the majority of societies we have here. Several are gender inclusive.

Also, most students involved in greek societies don’t live there, also unusual. Most live in college housing. As a result, people’s involvement in greek societies generally only represents a fraction of what they do at Dartmouth. So, it’s quite easy to have an active social life at Dartmouthwithout rushing a society. I don’t plan on it, for example, and I’m not all worried. I will always have access to parties if I want it, and besides there are tons of other things going on in the weekends, like movies, theater productions, game nights etc. These are all very well attended, and I’ve often chosen not to go to a party to attend some of these

Of course, like any college, the party scene is alive and well. So the majority of your daughter’s friends will be going out on the weekends. But as I said, there’s always other options, and plenty of people who don’t choose that. But people at these schools are a lot more interesting and less traditional party people than in high school. I never partied in high school but now I do on most weekends for one night at least. And the first few times, I didn’t even drink, and there was NO pressure on me to do so.

Hope I helped, let me know if you have any more questions!


Thank you so much!! I think I’ve definitely let the stereotypes get to me, unfortunately. It’s been hard when I know nothing about most colleges (and I’ve only ever visited two)…

I’ll definitely do some more research into Dartmouth, it sounds cool!

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Have you read the Princeton review’s best colleges guide and/or the Fiske guide?
Both are good but different: Princeton Review is a quick review but it highlights the basics about vibe, academics, student life… Fiske goes much more in-depth so it can be confusing at first trying to distinguish all colleges from one another.
You could borrow Princeton Review from the library if you wish to save money, read it to clear things a bit, then buy Fiske (or buy both if you have ~$35-40).


In terms of the picky, there are many reasons to love Rice and Houston, but Houston is hot and sweaty although the AC is cold and the food is amazing.

You might want to reconsider the Northeastern coop thing. Preprofessional vibe, liberal but not performative, Boston is great college town, cool clubs… (My son is at Northeastern. Great experience. We’re in TX.)

Your not pretty or hot enough comments make me think that SMU is not a fit. I’m taking this as comments on style and time you’re interested in devoting to looking hot. I can’t imagine my younger daughter at SMU. UTexas is huge. Austin is fun.

Are you possibly interested in Lafayette? Haverford is small but with broad access to Philly and other colleges and universities.

No worries! I am actually an international student so I never got the chance to do tours before applying as well. I instead did a crap ton of research from home! So, I ended up learning a lot of info about a lot of US schools - which I later applied to a part time job as a college counselor!

If you have any more Dartmouth related (or other) questions, feel free to reach out! I’m always happy to help. I know how difficult it is to apply to schools you’ve never even seen before.

P.S. just also wanted to add that Dartmouth is particularly strong at both econ and poli sci - in fact, unlike most schools, most classes in these very popular departments are small and all are taught directly by professors, and research positions are open primarily to undergrads. Not to mention it is surrounded by a lovely college town.

I see a lot of academic reaches (for everybody) and expensive schools.

I would sit down with your parents and come up with a budget. How do you know you qualify for FA?

I would also come up with a few safety and match schools. It’s hard to make suggestions with the information that you provided.


The suggestions in this thread are indeed not very useful anymore considering that the constraints listed in another thread suggest that schools that offer NMS full ride scholarships are probably the only viable options.

Possible Changes To Benacquisto and Florida Aid - Financial Aid & Scholarships / National Merit Scholarships - College Confidential Forums

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I actually have an update to that-

My noncustodial parent expressed willingness to pay, which came completely out of the blue!!
And they’ve made a LOT more money than I knew of. Like the CSS profile would disqualify me from financial aid. But they’re willing to help fund my education!!! I am so grateful and overjoyed!!

And I have another relative who has WAY more money than I realized that offered to help out!!! I’m freaking out because those constraints don’t really apply anymore!!!

I sent some people this information already but I forgot to put it on my main post!!!


@Spineappletwists Great news! Then ASU Barrett should be back on your list :wink:

By the way, you might want to get familiar with the Tuition gift tax exclusion so that your relatives who offered to help out do not risk ending up having to pay gift taxes. Tuition Gift Tax Exclusion (

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That’s great news! But it’s still important to discuss the cost with them. Are they aware of what college costs are today?

Once you have a number we can begin to provide appropriate schools.



Adding to what @twogirls has written, you also need to apply good risk management practices and consider worst-case scenarios when planning.

For example, if your noncustodial parent or rich relative were to pass away, would the money keep flowing? If they want to fully commit, they might want to take a small life insurance policy to guarantee that you will be covered until you graduate. That is however a difficult topic to discuss with them.

Less macabre, could they simply change their mind in a couple of years (for example if their income were to drop)? Getting the promised money upfront would minimize the risk, but the more they give you upfront, the more likely it is that gift taxes will be assessed…

In any event you need to be clear if your budget is 30K or 300K over four years…

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Another way to help buffer these risks would be to open a 529 college savings account now, and ask all of the relatives who say they’re willing to fund your education to start contributing the maximum this year. The max is $15K per contributor, per year. So, you could have $30K from each parent and more from the “rich relative” held in reserve in that account, before you even start college. (And they could be confident that you couldn’t use it for anything other than your education.) If they kept contributing in your first few years of college while also paying the current costs at the time, you could have a reassuring buffer there, and they could be done dispensing money at an earlier point, giving you control over the funds and assurance that those funds are already allocated. And it would be good proof of concept to see their support move from hypothetical to tangible, before you commit to a college.


Good point! They could even contribute 75K upfront using the “The 5-year election”

How much can you contribute to a 529 plan in 2021? (