How to Avoid Undermatching When Applying to College

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Undermatching in College AdmissionsCreating a Balanced College List is Important to Avoid Undermatching

Are you applying to the right schools? During college admissions season we talk a lot about creating a balanced college list of schools that are best-fits for your personal and academic goals, but some students may not be choosing schools that are the best academic and budgetary matches. 

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that many students were “undermatching” or “overmatching”when it came to applying and enrolling in some college and universities ­–primarily due to student choice. 

28% of those surveyed were found to have undermatched, which is when students don’t apply to or enroll in the best institutions likely to admit them. This can be avoided by doing more research into schools that a student likes, but initially feels is “out of reach.” Many of the country’s top-tier schools that underprivileged students shy away from because of price, are actually very affordable.

So how do you make sure you’re applying to the right schools? It starts with creating a balanced college list.

The most basic way to ensure you’re applying to schools that are great academic matches is to look at the college’s academic requirements for admission and see where you fall. What are the basic GPA and SAT/ACT score requirements that you need to meet? Many schools have the median grades and scores for the previously admitted class on their website. This is how you can classify certain schools. 

  • “Likely” schools = student’s academic profile is significantly stronger than the middle 50 percent of students who are typically admitted. 

  • “Target” schools = student’s academic profile is similar to that middle 50 percent.

  • “Reach” schools = student’s academic profile is not as strong as the middle 50 percent. 

When considering factors like tuition and financial aid, it’s important to remember that the sticker price is not necessarily what you’ll have to pay. Look up institutions of interest on College Navigator and look for the school’s “net price.” This will give you a better picture of the need-based aid you can receive if admitted. 

It’s important to remember that when building a college list of best-fits and matches, research is key. Determining how your academic profile matches with admitted students at the school, and determining if it meets your budget, is critical and can keep you from over or under matching when it comes time to apply and enroll.

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