Is this a realistic list, or a recipe for disaster? (sorry for the long post)

Trying to help S22 with the choices for his final list, and I’m concerned whether it’s appropriate, balanced and realistic for his profile. We’re flying a bit blind here, as this is our first child going through the process, so please forgive any silly questions. I’ll try to provide all the detail I can. Here’s the story:

  1. Zero cost constraints. We are not eligible for financial aid, nor will we have any problem or concerns about paying full freight anywhere he chooses (and yes we know what that entails). We’re fortunate to be in this position, and fully comfortable paying for any school that he wants. For us, this is 100% about fit.

  2. Selective, independent, college-prep HS. School does not calculate gpa or rank. Unweighted GPA is probably around 3.8 (2 B+'s in 9th, 1 B+ in 11th, rest are all A’s). School does not weight, but it would probably bring him up around 4.1-4.2. Rigor of curriculum is decent, not great. 0 Honors/AP in 9th, 1 in 10th, 2 in 11th, 3 in 12th. He will have five years of english, math, science, history, and foreign language, as well as two arts classes every year (he’s a musician). School is highly regarded independent school on West Coast with a ver strong track record of placement at top colleges. They cap the number of honors/AP’s per year, so his schedule would be viewed as decent, but definitely not as tough as the top of his class.

  3. Planning to go test optional. Extremely strong verbal ability, but math is rougher. Long story short, covid made finding/preparing for testing seem like more hassle than the potential payoff.

  4. Recs should all be outstanding. Loved by teachers and counselors, huge classroom participant, warmhearted, creative, engaged, eager kid.

  5. Essays should be above average, but not off the charts. Solid writer, knows how to turn a phrase. Authentic and passionate kid.

  6. EC’s will be pretty thin. Some of this is covid, but honestly most of it is just an introverted kid with some mild social anxiety. He’s done a few school clubs, a bit of service, finished 2nd in a state-level academic competition, and spends a good deal of time studying music. Biggest non-music EC is a podcast he produces. He’s done considerable work on it, and has had some success there.

  7. Interviews will be a mixed bag. He’s a quirky kid, embraces his own nerdiness and doesn’t care a whit about fashion or being part of the “cool crowd”. It’s very hard not to love him when you spend any amount of time with him, but he’s definitely an outside the box personality. At the right social fit, they’ll get him. At a cookie cutter school, probably not.

  8. He’s a talented musician, and will probably submit a music sample with his application, but I’m not expecting it to be strong enough to move the needle admission wise.

Here’s what he’s looking for:

  1. Small, small, small. Anything over 3000 is a non-starter. Closer to 1500 is better. Needs a close-knit, welcoming, friendly, highly residential LAC, where people are known to be kind to one another.

  2. Definitely needs a strong music program, but doesn’t want to do a conservatory. Open to applying to schools that have conservatories, but only if the BA students aren’t shut out from good music offerings. Secondary interests include: Education, Music Education, Media Studies, Political Science, History. Would like to avoid schools with massive math coursework in their distribution requirements. Thinking about a career as a music teacher, but that could very well change as he explores.

  3. Relatively open geographically. Will consider anywhere in US except Southeast (culturally too conservative for him). California is a plus, but not a big deal.

  4. Refuses to consider schools with a strong religious influence. Doesn’t want a party school, or a school with a dominant Greek system.

  5. Enjoys a politically progressive, open-minded, lefty-ish student body.

Schools that he has already researched but ruled out (for various reasons) include: Goucher, Muhlenberg, St. John’s (MD), St. Olaf, Loyola Marymount, Reed, Kenyon, Brandeis, Colorado College, Vassar, Bennington, Chapman.

Schools that he has researched, liked, and are looking likely to make the final cut are (in no particular order):

Lewis and Clark
University of Puget Sound
Connecticut College
Lawrence University
Lake Forest College

That puts the list at 13. I’m sure at least one or two will drop from this list over the summer as we visit, but I’m not sure which ones. So I guess the big question I have is: does this group seem balanced in terms of safeties, matches, and reaches. I know he’s got at least several on there that are a bit of a stretch, but based on my research it seems like there are 3-4 in there that are pretty safe, and then there are 3-4 that seem like a coin toss (but that’s hard to say) . Am I way off? How would you categorize his chances with the schools in this group? Are there obvious places that we should be considering that we haven’t? Is anything on this list a completely terrible fit?

Again, sorry if this is the wrong way of looking at it. I’m hoping that he’ll wind up applying to 10-12 schools, and have enough choices at the end of the road to feel good about all of the hard work he’s done.

Thanks to everyone in this group for any wisdom you can share.


I’m just a parent, and also have no music expertise, but the list looks good to me! (as I was reading Bard came immediately to my mind). But – wouldn’t your college counselor have the best perspective on the list? Do you have access to Naviance? That would also be more useful than us internet strangers, I would think.


List looks good well balanced list to me too!

Curious why St. Olaf was ruled out? That was the first school that popped into my mind with reading his wish list. Despite the name, the students who I know that went there are not religious at all and felt very, very at home there.

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Thanks so much for the input! Yes, our counselor is wonderful, and he has been an amazing resource in putting together the list. We do have Naviance, but the data is less helpful than I’d be comfortable with because of the TO and the EC profile. Long story short, I’m a numbers guy, and looking for multiple perspectives.

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Agree with others. Seem to be shooting for the right level schools.

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Thanks momofboiler1! He really loved St. Olaf, and it definitely checks most/all of the boxes. As you already guessed, it was a religious thing. It’s not so much that the religious affiliation was so strong, but that there were (seemingly) so few Jewish students there (we’re Jewish), that he felt like he might feel a bit out of place. Possibly an overreaction from a 17 year-old, but we’re trying to let him steer the ship.


Thanks! So reassuring to hear.

There should be no modifiers like “pretty” involved with at least one of the safety schools; it should be someplace your child is all but guaranteed to be accepted and a place he would be happy to attend.

Which of these is that school?

You make a fair point. I use “pretty” because I’m uncomfortable with the word “certain” which perhaps is the whole point - I don’t know for sure. To answer your question, he’d be happy to attend any of the 13 that I listed - he’s smart enough not to apply anywhere that he isn’t excited about, so that’s good. My strong belief (and here’s where I’m looking for someone to correct me if I’m wrong) is that he’s extremely likely to be admitted to Puget Sound, Willamette, Lewis and Clark, and Lake Forest. If others disagree with that assessment, then I’m all ears.

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I agree!


I would add Lawrence to the high likely acceptance as well.


No expert - just a recent parent that is very nosy with placements from our kid’s school and area schools - 1st schools that popped in my mind where I have seen kids attend that sound like your son were on his no list: St. Olaf, Kenyon, Reed and Colorado College. Also I thought of Pitzer, Whitman and Skidmore - so great minds :wink:

Not sure why Oberlin is still on and Kenyon is off - if it is about greek, just not the case with Kenyon and more service club based.

With no financial restraints, are you hoping he will have a strong favorite and ED? I love his list (but also love a lot of his no schools too) - it looks like it is all about fit and hopefully in person visits are in the works where some will bubble more to the top.

That’s encouraging to hear. The ones I have the toughest time handicapping are Lawrence, Bard, Whitman, and Dickinson - not enough data in Naviance to make very good predictions. My guess was that Lawrence was more likely than not, but it’s really good to hear you confirm. He really loves the school!

Kenyon got bumped because he “just wasn’t feeling it” (facepalm). I think Oberlin hung around because it was more liberal, and most of all because the music opportunities are so amazing.

Yes, if he winds up falling in love with one of the tougher nuts to crack on this list (admission-wise), I’m hoping ED will help push him over the finish line toward a yes. We’re on track to visit 8-9 of them this summer, and hope to make a swing through the three midwestern schools in October. But I also don’t want to pressure him to make a commitment to one place if he’s not ready for it, so time will tell.

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Also don’t sell his podcast short - that is an amazing EC and self directed plus his commitment to music. Most of these schools on this list will see it (and he needs to make sure he words in well on his application) and embrace kids like your son. My daughter’s bff loved Lawrence after meeting the rep at a college fair and was ready to buy the sweatshirt :wink: - she was able to visit and just ended up not being a fan of the area and it went from this is “my school” to not even being on her final list. Hoping visits are in your future and even trying to arrange meet ups within the music dept or requesting a music student would be helpful too.


I completely understand why your son is attracted to Oberlin & not to Kenyon College based on the information shared in this thread.

When finished reading the original post in this thread, my impression was that Oberlin should be on his list. Occidental & Skidmore also came to mind.

Wesleyan University ?

Macalester College ?


Oberlin seems like a great choice, my S21 was accepted with similar stats and mostly performing arts based ECs.

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He sounds like a really cool kid. At least a couple of these are missing the ability to get an education degree that can immediately be used to teach. The other school that came to mind was Viterbo. It is a catholic school but that is expressed in standard community service and seems to really have a strong campus community feeling. Not sure on the Jewish numbers but the religion is expressed in ways that match Jewish service tenets as I understand them (which you probably should not fully trust me on that because I am a PK;)). It seems to check all the other boxes.

What college will be the safety with 100% of admission?

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Probably not necessary when there are at least four highly likely schools on the list. There aren’t nearly as many auto-admit/rack and stack schools as there used to be so it’s not possible for all students to have a guaranteed admit on their list (especially for low income students, which is fortunately not OP’s situation).

ETA: homerdog’s D21 journey thread is an example of a student who had a balanced list with no guaranteed admit. Yet, based on Naviance and doing their homework, they were able to identify several highly likelies (which a number of CC posters challenged) that resulted in admission.