Building a List of Colleges

The final goal of the college search is to create a balanced list of colleges that fall into four categories: reach, possible, target, and likely. In determining where a given college falls for a particular student, we use our best judgment based on experience with recent University School graduates, national trends, and institutional changes. Changes in academic performance during the junior and senior year may well move certain colleges into a different category, and better standardized test scores taken in the fall of the senior year can also increase the likelihood of acceptances. We offer honest advice to help you evaluate your chances of admission at a particular college—not as a judgment of your performance during your time at University School or your potential as a college student Ideally, your final list should be constructed so that you will be admitted to many of the colleges on your list. There are thousands of great colleges that will provide our students with a great education, and meaningful post-secondary experience. The college counseling process is all about finding the best "fit" and match for our students!

By the beginning of the senior, we recommend that you re-visit your preliminary list of colleges with your college counselor. It is suggested that you have at least two colleges in the "likely" category, and no more than three colleges in the "reach" category. The majority of your colleges should be in the "target" and "possible" categories. It is important to note that the most highly selective colleges in the country will be in the "reach" category for many University School students, regardless of how strong he or she is. Highly selective universities receive so many qualified applicants, and the admission decisions are not based on quantitative data alone (GPA and test scores). Rather, the admissions committee is trying to form a class of students who will bring unique talents to their colleges in addition to stellar academic performance (and the institutional need of the specific college). The college counselor will be able to tell you why certain colleges fall in a particular category.

What is meant by the term "selective" colleges? Guidebooks generally follow this breakdown:

Most selective
Acceptance rates at these colleges are less than 15%
SAT- CR: 750-800, SAT-Math: 720-800, ACT- 34-36; weighted GPA 4.0+

Highly selective
Acceptance rates at these colleges are between 20%-30%
SAT-CR: 700-800, SAT-Math: 670-800, ACT- 32-36; weighted GPA 4.0+

Very selective
Acceptance rates at these colleges are approximately 33%-50%
SAT- CR: 650+, SAT- Math: 650+, ACT-26+; weighted GPA 3.5

Acceptance rates at these colleges are approximately 65%
SAT- CR: 580+, SAT-Math: 550+, ACT- 24+; weighted GPA 3.2

Less Selective
Acceptance is based on space available
SAT-CR: 480+, SAT-Math: 460+, ACT 19+; weighted GPA 2.7

Looking at a student's academic transcript, standardized testing, extracurricular activities, special talents/skills, and family background, college choices may be grouped into the following categories:

Reach College: There is a difference between a reach school and one where a student has absolutely no chance of admission. In general, there is only a 10-15% chance of admission.

Possible: University School students with similar grades and test scores are sometimes admitted, waitlisted, and occasionally denied. Chance of admission is roughly 30%

Target: These are colleges where your candidacy is very competitive based on your academic profile. If your academic profile is slightly above the mean for grades and testing, you have a 50% chance of admission.

Likely (probable admission): These colleges are where students are likely to be admitted ( 70% chance of admission).

Points for Students to Consider:

  • Students should spend as much time thinking about "likely" colleges as " reach" colleges.
  • Just because the chance of admission at a particular college is greater than that at another, does not mean the college's programs are of lesser quality. Selectivity is dependent on the size of the applicant pool. Students should research carefully and note that just because there are more students applying to a particular college does not mean it is a "better" university.
  • Where a student chooses to go to college will not get them into graduate school. What counts most is a student's performance at the college where they attend. A distinguished record of achievement and taking advantage of opportunities that come a student's way are the strongest determining factors.
  • Steer clear of the magazine rankings as they have little to do with what a student is looking for in a college. These articles only serve to confuse students and do not convey a clear message.