Looking for Match and Likely Schools and Chance Me on Reach Schools

Thank you in advance to everyone who is taking time to read this post and offering advice. My daughter is a junior (class of 2023) and is working on her college list. She has plenty of reach schools with very low acceptance rates. I’d like to help her identify some schools that are not as selective and competitive to round out her list.

-Asian female
-US Citizen
-Large public high school in California–probably considered good but certainly not excellent
-no special hooks but she may look into colleges where she can play her sport but right now there is no plan to try to become a recruited athlete

-STEM related fields, specifically environmental engineering (possible major), math and microbiology (possible double major); also interested in social justice issues and the intersection between science/health and gender/income/poverty
-may be interested in grad school but not sure at this point

-urban or suburban area
-preferably CA but open to other parts of the country but not the Midwest or the South
-Medium to large college
-Reputation of being very open minded/students are open minded (so no fundamentalist religious colleges although religiously affiliated colleges such as Georgetown or Notre Dame are fine)

Current List:
-UC schools (Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Cruz)
-Stanford (it’s in CA, strong engineering, strong environmental studies, prestigious)
-Duke (no idea why she got it in her head that Duke must be on her list)
-Yale (she feels that the student body is very attuned to social justice issues)
-Princeton (I would like her to consider this school because of its commitment to undergraduate teaching but she’s on the fence about this one)

-4.0 unweighted; 4.7 weighted
-1520 first SAT; will sit for second SAT in August but may apply test optional if needed; UC schools have gone test blind
-rank is 20 out of 600+
-AP Chem, AP Calc AB, AP Bio, AP art history in freshman and sophomore years with a 5 in everything except chem, which was a 4

Junior Year Schedule (all A’s the first semester and on track to get A’s the second semester):
AP Lang
AP Spanish
AP Calc BC
AP US History
AP Environmental Science
Varsity sport

Senior Year Schedule:
Multivariable Calculus (fall semester) and Linear Algebra (spring semester)
AP Lit
AP Physics 1
AP Macro Econ (fall)/ AP Govt (spring)
AP Comp Sci
Varsity Sport
(she may drop AP Comp Sci if it gets too overwhelming with college apps)

-4 years varsity sport at high school level
-Club sport for 10 years with a national title
-Invention related to her academic interest that is under review with PTO for a patent
-Book written about her experience in her sport (due to be self published in May)
-Founder and president of a STEM related club at school
-Children’s illustrated book focused on introducing girls to careers in engineering (she may shop this one around to publishers)
-Internship with an organization in her academic field of interest
-Part time job (not related to academics)–20 hours a week in summer and 10 hours a week during school year
-Podcast discussing the intersection of social justice and science
-volunteer work centered around a research project with a science related nonprofit organization

If you’ve made it this far, thank you, thank you, thank you. Anyone have suggestions on some more schools she should consider? Right now expense is not a factor but of course the less mom and dad need to shell out (or the fewer loans she needs to take out), the better.

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University of Rochester. Tufts?

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She has impressive achievements so far, congrats to her.

I second Rochester.

Adding Pitt…rolling admission, if apply in Aug/Sept, should have an acceptance in October. Excellent stem school.

Consider U San Diego, Santa Clara, Brandeis, George Washington, Case Western in Cleveland, unless no Midwest knocks that out.

Oregon/Oregon State would be safeties, assuming they are affordable.

This makes it sounds like cost will be a factor. I encourage you to set a budget for your D, communicate it to her and stick to it. Your D can take out $27K max in loans during undergrad ($5.5K the first year, then $6.5K/$7.5K/$7.5K). Loans greater than that will be on the parents.

Will you qualify for need based aid? Run Princeton’s net price calculator (NPC) to get an estimate of their costs…is it affordable? Most of the schools on her list should have a functional NPC.


Would she consider Santa Clara? Jesuit focus is on service and community, not “religion.” They have a civil, environmental, sustainable engineering program that may fit her interests.


Congratulations on all of your daughters accomplishments!

Run the NPC at one of the schools. Is your family able and willing to pay the price that the school estimates? If so, great. If not, then those schools might as well be eliminated, because most of them don’t offer merit aid. If your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is higher than what your family is able and willing to pay, then what is the budget? That will help us to mention schools that are either within budget via sticker price, or that would be likely to fall within budget after merit aid.

Also, are cosmopolitan places like Chicago and Atlanta off the list as they are in the midwest or south? I’ve heard of people wanting to avoid the south, but I’m curious as to the rationale on the midwest. (The midwest often has some great academic institutions giving really good merit aid.)


If your daughter is seriously interested in environmental engineering as a major, then that’s going to be the biggest limiting factor in her college search (which is not a bad thing, as there are MANY great universities out there, so it’s very useful to have a way of cutting down the list). In most engineering fields it’s very important that the school is ABET accredited in the major as many employers will not hire an engineer who didn’t graduate from an ABET accredited program.

Currently, ABET lists 76 institutions in the U.S. that have an accredited Bachelor’s degree program for environmental engineering, and there are some related programs that have an additional institution or two (Bioenvironmental Engineering has Rutgers and Environmental Resource Engineering has Humboldt State and one of the SUNYs). This list from ABET is likely to prove helpful in seeing what schools are actual options for that field. Many schools on your daughter’s current list are not on it.

This list is categorized based on my very fallible sense of what might be your chances of acceptance. All of these schools have ABET accredited environmental programs, are on the east or west coast, and are in suburban or urban environments.


  • U. of Arizona (which will have great merit aid for your D, too)

Extremely Likely (80-99%)

  • Colorado State
  • Drexel (PA )
  • Northern Arizona
  • Oregon State
  • U. of Colorado – Boulder
  • U. of Delaware
  • U. of New Hampshire
  • U. of Vermont

Likely (60-79%)

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic (NY)
  • Syracuse (NY)
  • SUNY Buffalo (NY)
  • Temple (PA )
  • UC – Riverside
  • U. of Pittsburgh
  • Rutgers – New Brunswick (NJ) (Bioenvironmental Engineering)
  • Penn State (Environmental Systems Engineering)

Toss-Up (40-59%)

  • Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ)
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • North Carolina State
  • San Diego State (CA)
  • U. of Washington

Possible (20-39%)

  • Lehigh (PA )
  • Bucknell (PA )
  • Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo
  • UC – Irvine

Less Likely (20% or less)

  • Brown (RI)
  • Duke (NC)
  • Northeastern (MA)
  • Johns Hopkins (MD)
  • Tufts
  • U. of Southern California
  • Columbia (Earth & Environmental Engineering)

I would send her application to UCI, UCSB and UCD as well. I can’t tell how much went into her unique extracurriculars (podcast, invention, book) but if she has a story to tell, she might throw an application to USC to see if she can get one of the larger merit scholarships.

She probably chose Duke because they have Nicholas School of Environment.

Is she interested in the environment or in environmental engineering? Soft sciences or hard science?

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If you’d like serious help, there is one more piece of information you may want to provide – either 1) where did the top 20kids at your school go last year, or b) whether she is inside the Naviance (or equivalent system) band for each of the schools she seems currently interested in. This gives us a sense of how your school is perceived.

May also be useful to mention which sport she won national titles in – why ignore that? This may be really helpful.

Thank you. I don’t know much about Rochester but I know Tufts is a great school but I would say it’s pretty difficult getting into Tufts these days.

Thank you, but who knows if the achievements are ever enough when it come to the highly selective schools. Pitt as a likely early on due to rolling admissions is a great idea. I think Santa Clara will probably make it on her list as well as the Oregon schools.

We are willing and able to fund her college years without taking out loans and know that we will not receive any financial aid. I’ve run the NPC many times for all of the schools on her list and we are on the hook for 100%. There was one NPC where we ended up having to contribute 110% of the cost of attending–I don’t know why or how that one works!

Of course, the Ivies don’t give out merit aid. I mention my daughter taking out loans because I am a firm believer in ensuring that the student has some skin in the game even if it’s a part time job during the summer or a small loan regardless of how much money the student’s parents have or are willing to contribute. I funded my own undergrad and law school education and because I had so much riding on doing well, I took my studies very seriously.

Yes, I think Santa Clara would be a very viable option for her. Her father attended Georgetown, another Jesuit school, and feels that the Jesuit approach to education is something she admires. Thank you for the suggestion.

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Thank you–she has worked hard but who knows if it will get her into her top schools. I’m trying to manage her expectations without squashing her spirit–a tough line to walk. I’ve told her she should try her best and the rest is out of our hands.

I have run the NPC and we are on the hook for 100% everywhere. I keep running the NPC over and over again hoping to see a new number, but nope. There was one school that came back with a number that was 10% higher than the actual cost of attendance. So weird. While we are able and willing to fund her undergrad education without taking out loans, the less we have to pay, the better even if it’s just a matter of principle (I’m sure you’ve heard of Jeff Selingo and his buyer versus seller college paradigm).

I think she wants to avoid the MW because of the weather, although I know parts of the NE can get almost as bad. I think she’s afraid that she won’t feel comfortable in the south even in cosmopolitan cities, such as Atlanta, especially with Asian hate crimes at an all time high (although I consider Durham the south and that’s on her list so it’s clearly not a hard and fast rule).

Thank you for pointing me to ABET. I don’t have much knowledge when it comes to engineering. Humboldt, Arizona, Oregon, Pitt, Penn State, SDSU, U of Washington, USC, UCI, and UCR are all great suggestions and I am guessing many of these schools will end up on her list. Thank you so much for breaking the schools down by admit rate–very helpful information.

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Thank you. I think that’s a good plan to hit the other UCs. It terrifies me that I know of many friends who have kids who did not get into one UC during their years. Her ECs are all her, even the children’s book, she wrote and illustrated without any outside help. Her podcast was started her freshman year so she has several years’ worth of episodes. I think she does have a story to tell that ties together most of her ECs, except for her sport.

She is interested in both environmental science as well as environmental engineering. She hasn’t had as much exposure to the engineering part–just an intro course and a summer program (which is one of many reasons why I say her high school is good but nowhere close to being excellent) but she knows enough about it to believe that it is an area that she may want to pursue.

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In response to your questions: 1) Most of the top 20 kids end up at the UCs or top 20-30 private universities. Very few go on to top 10 schools so there is very little data to compare. In the three years that she has been at this high school one student got accepted into MIT, another student got accepted into JHU and I think that’s about it in terms of top 10 universities. I believe there were a few acceptances to LACs such as Pomona, Middlebury, Occidental but that’s about it. 2) I tried to provide as much information as possible to allow people to make educated suggestions while withholding information that makes it obvious who this post is about. Her sport is not one in which many colleges recruit for and the community is very tight knit. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person on CC would be able to guess who she is based on her sport, where she lives, and her interests. In the interest of maintaining her privacy, I chose to withhold that information, not ignore it.


Just to clarify, the sorting by category that I did is not based strictly on the school’s admit rate, although it is based upon it. If, for instance, your daughter’s GPA and SAT scores were well above the university’s 25-75% range, then I would usually boost it up into a higher category if I thought her odds merited it (and where in my “classification” system the admit rate was…if it was near the bottom of a range then it usually stayed in that range…if it was more than halfway to the next category, then I’d frequently bump it up). The schools in the “less likely” category are all based on pure admit rate.

Your daughter is fortunate that she has such an involved parent whose feet seem to be firmly planted on the ground and is seeking to be as well-informed as possible.


As you’re a fan of Jeff Selingo and his buyer/seller paradigm, I thought I’d break down the list of schools above by category (at least from what I saw on the Excel spreadsheet downloaded from his site…I may have accidentally missed a school or two). All schools were sellers except for these:


  • Rensselaer Polytechnic
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Syracuse
  • U. of Maryland
  • U. of Pittsburgh
  • Cal Poly – SLO
  • Humboldt State
  • NC State
  • SD State
  • U. of Arizona
  • UC – Riverside
  • U. of Colorado
  • U. of Delaware
  • U. of Vermont
  • U. of Washington

Mild Buyer

  • Bucknell
  • Northeastern

There has been a lot of upheaval on the admissions front for college students. I’m not sure if some of these universities would still be classified as buyers, like Northeastern, for instance. For others, it probably depends on the major and how much demand there is for it (CS at UW would definitely be a seller situation).

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I just wanted to give a plug for one of the “likely” schools on @AustenNut’s list — Oregon State.

It has strong Environmental Science and Engineering programs, plus it would be relatively easy to switch or add majors there. It moved from the bottom if my D22’s list to the top after visiting — the department tour, in particular, felt so personal and like you were at a small school instead of a large public university. She felt she could hit the ground running and that it would be easier to take advantage of the opportunities (academic and social) there, compared to some of the more selective schools on her list.

My D22, who attends a very racially/politically/ethnically/religiously diverse high school, was concerned OSU would feel too white or cookie-cutter, but that has not been her experience after interacting with other accepted students on social media. It would be hard to find a college as diverse as her high school outside some of the high-ranking schools which have a particularly high national and international appeal, but Oregon State offered enough to satisfy her.

Finally, it is a WUE school, offering WUE scholarships to the top 10% of applicants (tuition at 150% resident cost), which makes it affordable and means there will be plenty of students from other western states there.


More of a general comment here, but I think parents who are almost at the end of this crazy season would agree that spending more time evaluating safeties and making sure that she would be happy (or at leas content with) them is a necessary insurance plan. I have seen that target lists have turned into rejection/waiting lists. I have even seen safety schools reject or waitlist amazing applicants.

There are so many new and unpredictable forces at play that relying upon stats or ‘what normally happens’ is just out-the-window at this point. Nothing makes sense right now. I will be telling my brother who has an up and coming junior to make a list of ‘Safety schools’ and a list of ‘Reaches/Unknowns’.

This is a good thread for getting up to speed with admission upheavals:

Here’s another:

Learn from our mis-calculations!

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Thank you. I am trying to be realistic and trying to convey to her that it’s a mad, mad world when it comes to admissions these past few. years.

Yes, it has been such a a tough couple of years for many applicants. Hopefully your student will find a good community in the school he or she ends up attending despite any earlier disappointment.