Are you trying to decide which colleges to apply to? Ideally, you should take the time to deeply research and evaluate your college choices. Developing a list of “good fit” colleges takes time and careful consideration. Far too often, students do not put enough effort into this part of the process. Before you add a college to your list, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Not every college is a great fit for every student. Colleges that make your list should be the ones where you believe you have a good chance to be happy and successful.
Here are some insufficient, but common, reason students students decide to add a college to their list.
Because friends are applying there
Talking about college choices with friends may help you find new colleges to consider. However, the fact that friends like a school shouldn’t be enough reason to add it to your list. The school may not be a good fit for you academically or financially, and may not even offer your prospective major.
Because you think it is a lottery and maybe you’ll win
While it is true that odds are not great for admissions at many highly selective schools, that doesn’t mean it is a lottery. With a lottery it really is random chance whether or not you win. You may look at the 6% acceptance rate at Harvard or Stanford and figure that means you’ve got about a six out of a hundred chance of being admitted. But that doesn’t mean that if you send applications to the twenty best schools, you will automatically get into one. Just because a school has a 6% acceptance rate doesn’t mean YOU have a 6% chance of being admitted. Your odds may be better or they might be a lot worse. The lottery comparison promotes the flawed idea that getting into an Ivy or highly selective college is “winning.” Just because a school is prestigious doesn’t mean it is a good fit or that you will thrive there.
Because you are feeling competitive
Maybe you want to get into MIT to show your grandfather who has always disliked homeschooling that he was wrong. Or, maybe you want to prove you can get into a better school than your boastful friend. These are not good factors to weigh in your decision making. Happiness in life comes in part from learning to trust what is important to you and not let other people’s negative feelings dictate your choices.
Because you haven’t gotten around to doing research
Colleges should be on your list for a reason. It is fine if you don’t have time or money to visit every college on your list before you apply. But, you should take time to visit websites, read materials, investigate majors, email with admissions, and look at extracurricular opportunities.
Because US News ranks it highly
Many families put a lot of stock in US News rankings. They assume that a high ranking must be a sign the college is full of great professors and students all have a wonderful experiences there. Before you let these ratings dictate your college choices make sure you understand the methodology. Do you think you’ll be happier at a school that rejects more applicants? How about a school with a high percentage of alumni contributors, or a school that is ranked highly by administrators of other similar colleges? Do any of these factors matter to you? What I hear most often from students is that what they want out of college is a good education, friends, inspirational professors, fun, challenge, and preparation for success in graduate school and career. Every student has their own unique set of considerations and these factors are hard to turn into a ratings formula.
Because you want bragging rights later
“I don’t want to go to Princeton even if I get in, but it’ll impress future graduate schools and future employers.” Talking about the “road not traveled” only makes people feel like you’ve got sour grapes. It gives the appearance that you’ve made decisions you regret. What graduate schools and employers want to see is that you’ve made the absolute of your undergraduate education. It will be your recommendations, GPA, internships, GRE scores, research, and extracurricular activities at the school you did go to that matter, not that you got into an Ivy and didn’t attend.
Bottom Line: Applying to college can be time-consuming and expensive. Don’t waste time applying to schools for the wrong reasons. If you don’t really want to attend, spare yourself the agony of writing more supplemental essays. The more you focus your college search on schools that are a good match, the greater chance you will be happy on May 1st.