Why avoiding highly competitive schools is a winning applications strategy

Early decision applications or over reliance on top 25 schools (USNEWS) can be disastrous application strategy and put even a high achieving student at risk of not securing a viable admission. Instead relax your expectations. I don’t see any fun in applying to crowded application pool and getting unilateral rejection. This test optional strategy is a trap and did not favor poor but favored already wealthy institutions monetarily and make them look even more competitive. 100K apps means they get $7Million just through applications. In the contrary applicants get few minutes or no time reading your application from not necessarily qualified, but trained readers. While my recommendations apply to every one whose family makes more than $100K, I am almost certain if you are Asian male student specifically South Asian none of those big schools like you. So don’t waste your time applying. American colleges are no help to middle class families.

Here are my tips:

  1. Avoid early decision/restricted early action applications because it restricts you in so many ways, go for early action instead.

  2. Avoid flagship schools of other states that have preference for in-state. UAB may be an exception and the most welcoming one. Schools like UNC, don’t even waste your time.

  3. Pick private schools that are in the top 100 but not in top 25. They are the most generous ones. Your out of pocket costs can be less than that if state school.

  4. Relocate to states and attend high schools in less competitive areas if it is possible. WFH culture makes it feasible unlike before. Attend a private school because their counselors can lobby for your admissions on your behalf.

  5. If your parents can’t afford tuition then skip that school unless it is known to be generous.

  6. Sometimes applying as international student with out FAFSA can secure a seat if your parents can afford tuition. These are CFO specials and universities love them.

  7. Try getting engineering or comp sci degrees internationally. They cost nothing if you are accepted. Get skills through professional training or OJT. You can secure $120K starting salary right out of college. You don’t need brand name or 250K debt to complete college if you are pursuing tech or engineering careers.

  8. Avoid applying to colleges that are far away from home. Travel expenses can creep up.

  9. Don’t assume you had a good interview means you may be getting admission. They don’t correlate.

  10. Besides ranking check your fit with a campus in terms of : do they have a campus or feel of community, commuter school or not, dorms life style, quality of cafeterias, research vs teaching school. Many brand name universities you will be taught with teaching assistants. You won’t have enough time with professors which is where college experience adds lot of value to your career.


If you don’t apply, you won’t get accepted.

More applications don’t actually mean a qualified students have lower odds of acceptance.

Finances obviously are a consideration.

Moving a family for college admission, attending private school, attending overseas colleges for free aren’t really options for the vast majority of students.


there are many holes in your theory/advice.


This thread must be considered in the context of OP’s other thread:


I won’t deny the linkage between my posts. No one wants to hear advice from a loser parent like me but people can learn lessons from others’
failures if they are relevant to your situation. Other wise disregard my advice.

Did your kid only apply to top 25 schools?

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I personally think there are a lot of valid points here. The T25 and top OOS publics are a reach (read “extremely unlikely”) for almost all, especially for “hot” majors.

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OP forgot point #11 if this thread is to be viewed in context of OP’s other thread:

#11 Apply to at least 19 schools.

OP: The underlying issue or concern seems to have affected all 18 applications, therefore it may be a poor teacher recommendation or a self-defeating essay. Has to be something that was common to all 18 applications and serious or strong enough to result in 18 denials without even being placed on any waitlists.

If you want, I will read & critique the application essay which was in common among all or most applications. Just PM/DM it to me.


Hard to evaluate the proffered advice without knowing why all of the 18 applications resulted in rejections.

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I do hope you know that everyone here is deeply sympathetic to your situation and wants to help.

You’re NOT a loser parent. Admissions are not a reflection of you or your student. Please don’t be hard on yourself. I can understand if you’re feeling bitter right now. Oftentimes we parents act as sponges to absorb our children’s hurt.

We can all walk this path with you. You’re not alone. Take care!


I joined CC a few years ago because my D’s close friend way overshot his list. Was accepted only to a safety school the GC made him apply to at the last minute. He planned on transferring as soon as he could.

Turns out that he loves his school and is a rock star there. He’s in honors college, got a ton of merit money, great internships, etc… it’s a regional school on no one on CC’s radar but he’s getting a solid education with no debt and will be gainfully employed in his chosen field.

I share this to highlight that your student will still have the opportunity to shine and be successful. You don’t need to go to a T20 or even T100 school. In our friends case, not even a T200.

Get those last minute apps out and then look at the list on May 1st of schools that reopened applications because of yield problems.

(And for people yet to go through the process, build your list from the safeties up. And safeties are schools with 70% acceptance rates and up, that are affordable for your family. Doesn’t matter if you are in the top percentile of stats for schools with less than 30%acceptance rates. Those may be matches but not safeties no matter how great your stats. Below 20% are reaches for all. And if you are trying to get into a competitive major like CS, engineering or nursing, be sure you are looking at the acceptance rate for your major, not the school as a whole. Same applies if you are applying to an oos public. Check the differences between in and out of states acceptance rates and stats).


Very good point. A decent number of those schools that aren’t near the top of any ranking treat their top students like rock stars and give them perks that your kid may not be get at a higher-ranked school. In those cases, what the honors college (or even the faculty, through no formal program) may offer maybe pretty darn good. I remember several years ago a poster on here who talked about being shutout of all the top T20 he applied to and only getting in to his state flagship (which was evidently close to Arkansas but was not actually Arkansas). In the end, he decided to go to his flagship (I think on a full-ride) and was excited about it because the faculty there recruited him like a football team would a star athlete. They showed him the research they would involve him with as well as the other perks he’d get if he came on board.

Sometimes, it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond.




While I appreciate constructive criticism, I also want to divert your personal attacks to a more serious problem in American education system. These top schools are mostly for the privileged and privileged poor. It is less common than you think that they give opportunities to average American based on academics. One can never get into these schools based on academics(stats). I know some of you make fun of numbers but anything else is subjective evaluation. If you want a fair shot, subjective evaluations must go. Essays are designed to gage privileged and for clues such as Piano playing, Rowing and Lacrosse etc. Stuff mostly rich people are interested in. Average American student struggle they will never understand or appreciate even if the struggle is real. Thus my suggestion middle America should stay away from applying to such schools so your application fee is not wasted. Hard earned $75 can get you one or two family dinners why waste it by applying to such selective schools. I also don’t understand why America pays so much tuition for abstract and made up curriculum when employable skills are gained on the job or thru apprenticeship. If the education has any value, country should provide it for free so they become productive contributors to the economy. No other country has such exorbitant tuition fees. I don’t know which other country has students that pay education loans for life.

@AntiEssayist - a couple of your points make sense - and I mean a couple. You need to reflect on your situation with more objectivity. What you think happened may not have happened, besides the unfortunate result. Best of luck.


U.S. News doesn’t publish an overall top-25 ranking. This misperception can harm students if it influences their college searches.

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The most important lesson is to not limit your choices to only T20 or T30 universities.

@AntiEssayist you are not a loser parent and your child is not a loser applicant. It’s simply that you did not approach this with the best plan. It’s not really your fault because no one inherently goes into this process with the necessary knowledge. You’re not the first parent/student who assumed that being in the top X% of students at your school meant certain admittance into a T20 university.

The good news is there are alternatives, even at this late date. If you can shake (have already shaken) the attachment to name brand schools, there are some schools still accepting applications.

Good luck!


My kid got into:

All as an out of state applicant. Also got into Stanford via REA- first kid in the high school in like 15 years to go T10.

I guess as an educator married to a Soldier, we would be part of the privileged poor? :woman_shrugging:t2: I mean because the other option is rich and that for sure doesn’t apply :joy: maybe he is just a unicorn. I don’t feel like we wasted any money in his applications.

Admissions is subjective- kids need to do their best, get involved in meaningful ways, and realize in the end that college is a vehicle not the end destination- it is meant to get you somewhere. And those roads can come from many many different directions but all lead to the same point.


If there were zero acceptances out of 18 applications then there weren’t any true safeties on the list. Having stats in the upper quartile of accepted students is just the first hurdle to jump. Students also need to show how they’re a fit for each school. It’s understandable that he would be disappointed with the results, but you’ve come to the right place. If you give us some details we can offer suggestions. What are his career interests? What type of school does he want (large/small, rural/urban, preferred area of the country, etc)? What’s your home state? Have you set a budget? Is he applying with test scores or is he test optional?