The Truth About Applying to ‘Likely’ Colleges

The Hufington Post

By Dr. Kat Cohen
August 25, 2015

One of the most important things students will do during the college admissions process is develop a balanced list of schools to which to apply. Ideally, this list sets students up to apply to a range of colleges, with varying probability of admission. The common misconception about college lists is that the ‘likely’ or ‘safety’ schools on a student’s list are the least desirable and the applications that require the least attention because, hey, he or she is a shoe-in, right? Not quite. The truth is students need to treat every college like it’s their first-choice — even if it’s not.

A ‘Likely’ College Isn’t a ‘Fallback’
In the context of a balanced college list, a likely college is a school where a student’s academic profile is significantly stronger than the middle 50 percent of students who are typically admitted. To many students, this can be seen a ‘fallback’ or ‘safety’ school that they’re confident they’ll be admitted to, and will be a last resort should they not get into their top-choice target and reach colleges.

This often leads to students applying to likely colleges that, in the grand scheme of things, they’re not really that excited about. They’re just filling spots on a list, choosing colleges they think they’ll definitely get into, without factoring in fit. So, should they only gain acceptances to those colleges, they’re left with options that they didn’t even really want in the first place. Not a great way to start off their college experience, is it? And with students graduating with upwards of $35,000 in student loan debt, that’s a lot of money to spend on an education a student feels only lukewarm about.

Ideally, a likely college is a school that is a good academic, social, and financial fit for a student, where he or she is very likely to be accepted based on the admitted student profile. Students should be just as excited about their likely colleges as the other schools on their list. Never treat any college as a fallback.

A ‘Likely’ College Isn’t a Guarantee of Admission
Just because a student’s academic profile is stronger than the middle 50 percent of the school’s admitted students doesn’t mean he or she is definitely getting in. While admitted student profiles are a good way to gauge a student’s chances of admission, there’s a lot more that goes into admitting students than grades and test scores.

For many colleges, demonstrated and informed interest is an important factor when deciding whom to admit because it impacts another important metric colleges track: yield. Yield, the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll at a college, is very important to schools because it can affect things like rankings, credit ratings, and more. This means informed and demonstrated interest, what students know about the school, why they want to attend, and how they demonstrate this clearly in their applications, is a critical factor in the admissions process. Colleges want to admit students who will attend – even colleges like Harvard, which have close to 90% yield rates, worry about improving this metric. This is why it’s important to treat every application as a top-choice – a poor application can lead to a rejection even if a student feels he or she has a guaranteed chance of getting in.

Because many students treat likely colleges as the least important, they can neglect important parts of the application, like the essays, and put in minimal effort to demonstrate their desire to attend. After all, they’re just applying to apply, right? The truth is, submitting a halfhearted application tells a reader that you don’t really care about the school and, even if you get in, that you are not likely to attend – which will hurt their yield. So even if you are “overqualified” you may be rejected in favor of students who clearly demonstrate their interest throughout their application.

Tips For Applying to ‘Likely’ Colleges

  • Only apply to colleges you’re truly excited about. Don’t apply to State U just because you think you’ll definitely be admitted. Take time to do thorough research to find colleges you’re really interested in that match the ‘likely’ criteria. Just because the admission rate isn’t sub-10% doesn’t mean a school isn’t good enough.
  • Factor in fit. Just like all the other colleges on your list, likely schools should be a good-fit. Find schools that match your academic, social, and financial needs, as well as other factors like size, location, activities, etc.
  • Don’t rush through the application. Again, treat every application like it’s your top-choice college. Spend just as much time crafting your essays and putting together a thoughtful and genuine application. It will go a long way toward securing admission.
  • Be positive about your school choices. If you’re applying to a college you should be excited about it. Don’t have a negative attitude toward a school just because it doesn’t seem as ‘good’ as the other colleges you’re applying to. There are many colleges where any one student can be successful and happy. Keep a positive view of all the colleges on your list, not just your top dream school.

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