Applying to colleges was one of the most thrilling and exciting periods of my high school career. It was also one of the most stressful: I had to research dozens of schools and determine which ones I would most like to attend for the next four years. This research period was essential, especially if I wanted to be efficient about where I was going to apply and hopefully get in. The harsh reality about applying to colleges, especially ones abroad, is that most students cannot simply pick and choose which school they wish to attend. A lot of the more reputable institutions tend to be very selective – if not extremely selective – about their admissions. “Ivy League” schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are known for their single-digit admissions rates. Even small liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams are comparably selective due to their small class sizes. Unless you have a 4.0 GPA, a stellar extracurricular record, and top standardized test scores such that you actually could pick and choose among Ivy Leagues, I would like to remind incoming applicants to avoid “overshooting” for schools.
The concept of “overshooting” isn’t complicated. As students, we are individually aware of our own grades and test scores; thanks to the Internet and numerous print resources, we can also easily look up the academic averages for students who are admitted to various colleges and universities, especially those in the United States. Overshooting happens when an individual applies to schools that have test score averages that are beyond their own. In addition, it can also happen when someone applies to more colleges than they are capable of, thus risking mediocre supplementary application materials that can harm one’s chances of admission. I was lucky to be admitted to my top school of choice, Hamilton College, but this was also an institution that fit my individual academic achievements. I am, by no means, discouraging anyone from applying to his or her dream school; there’s no harm in applying to a “reach.” However, applying to colleges is, realistically speaking, a tedious and costly process.
As such, here are some of my personal tips to avoid “overshooting” and approaching the college application process efficiently:
- Expand your college search. The U.S. has thousands of colleges and universities that are not limited to Ivy League and U.C. schools. Britain has more than Cambridge and Oxford. Read up on as many different schools as you can. Your priorities for a “dream school” just might change in the process.
- Choose your colleges based on how well they fit YOU, not just based on their name. Trust me on this one. I’d never heard of Hamilton College before I started looking up colleges, but I’m really glad that I chose this school because it was the perfect fit for my personality and academic needs. Higher education is going to take up four years of your life, give or take, and you’ll want to spend them somewhere that you will love.
- Don’t apply to more than ten schools. This is the part where researching schools is important. There are thousands of possible schools to apply to, and their websites just make each institution seem like the perfect place. Look beyond their websites and read college reviews and forum posts to find which schools are a perfect fit, and then keep trimming your list until you get to ten schools or less.
- “Reaches,” “Targets,” and “Safeties." You can divide your list of ten schools into "reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools. Reach schools are the most selective schools with admissions rates that fall under 20 percent. You should apply to at least one of these, but no more than three. Target schools should realistically take up most of your list. These are schools wherein you academically fit in terms of your GPA and standardized test scores. I would also recommend having one to three safety schools wherein you feel like you would be a “shoo-in” for admission. If you’re applying for financial aid as an international student, you can obviously play around with these proportions as you see fit.
- Read the supplements. On a more practical note, check out the supplemental requirements of each college on your list when the Common Application comes online. Be realistic about the amount of time that your college applications will take up and make sure that you have enough time to finish each application to the best of your ability. With this in mind, applying to four schools that have three supplemental essays each might not be the best idea.
The whole college application process is just that: a process, the aim of which is to gain admission to an institution where you will learn and thrive for the next few years of your life. If you need help choosing colleges, narrowing down your list, or getting a reality check, shoot me an email. I won’t bite.
Kaye Kagaoan graduated from International School Manila in 2011. She now attends Hamilton College in Clinton, NY as a Creative Writing concentrator and member of the class of 2015.