Consider this student: He has a strong B+ average in his first two years of high school. He is a senior now and is in IB and averaging about a 5 or 6 per course he is taking. This is about consistent, that's a B or B+ equivalent. His SAT is 2040. Though he has strong extracurricular interests, he isn't a particular standout in anything. He wants to study business in the US. He wants to continue playing golf in college and is also interested in Jesuit colleges. Size wise, he could go medium to large but not too large. He needs no financial aid. Given his solid academic background and the fact that he is full pay, I think he is attractive to a lot of moderately competitive universities. I sat with him and made out this college list: Santa Clara University, Purdue University, Marquette University, Loyola Marymount University, Arizona State University, University of Washington. In the middle of July, he decided to go without my services and I recently found his new college list. My eyes went wide.
Stanford, Penn, Georgetown, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Southern California, University of Texas, and Santa Clara.
His list is absolutely bananas. He has virtually no chance at any of those schools except maybe for Santa Clara which I positioned for him as a moderate to long shot school. I posted his list on a public forum frequented by US college admission counselors and US college admission officers and the verdict was unanimous: it's a poor, very "top heavy" college list. The words "ridiculous" , "crazy" and "trippin' hard" were used to describe his college list.
What makes this list especially bad is that I know it was driven by ego or by a lust for the big names. As I've said over and over on this blog and to anyone who will listen, a big name does not equal a great education. When making a college list, you need to include colleges from a spectrum of admission possibilities. You have to include colleges that you will almost definitely be admitted to, colleges you have a moderate chance of being admitted to, and if you want, colleges that are long shots for you. Most of your colleges (about 70%) should be in the first two categories. For the student in question, none of his schools were really in the first two categories.
When people consider their admission chances at a university, they normally look at just the SAT scores and the average grades of the incoming freshmen. This is a start but it's not nearly enough. These numbers can be deceptive. Consider the admission rate too. Admission rate is what percentage of the applicant pool does the college normally admit. Stanford and Penn admit less than 10% of their applicants. Georgetown isn't much better at 12%, Northwestern is at 13%, The other California schools on his list, UCLA, Berkeley, USC is at about 20%. The general rule of thumb should always be: 25% or less admission rate should be considered long shot for ALL students regardless of academic background. Why? If I'm a strong student, shouldn't my chances be stronger? Not always true. The competition for places in these schools is unbelievable. Berkeley's student GPA average is 3.9/4.0 unweighted (which means no special consideration given for honors, advanced, or IB courses). In these colleges, it's not unusual for as much as 80 to 85% of the applicants to have precisely these kinds of qualifications but yet only 20% are admitted. This is why these kinds of schools are long shots...even for well qualified student. And consider that the student in question isn't even that strong, he's about a 3.3 in this scale.
Texas is what I would call "sneaky competitive". The admit rate might not very low and its GPA and SAT profile might be more humble but it's still very competitive for students outside of Texas. By law, the University of Texas must admit students graduating in the top 10% (the number varies year to year) of Texas high schools. The competition therefore becomes keener for out of state and international students. University of Michigan is another example of a "sneaky competitive" school. Santa Clara is less competitive than the others but is still asking for a slightly higher GPA (3.6) than what our hero has (3.3). It's still a possible but certainly far from a shoo-in.
So how do you find the right school for you? Seek advice from qualified professionals. Here in the Philippines there are too many "counselors" who, for a large sum of money, will give you a college list just like the one above to simply massage your ego. They'll say to the parents (whose egos are the ones they have to massage since they sign the checks) your child can get into these top name schools. It's also not enough just to look at the numbers and see if you fit. You want a college that fits you and your personality best and where you will thrive, grow and become the best person you can be. This might not be at a big name school but who cares? Talk to a counselor who will tell you the way it is and who is genuinely familiar with a wide range and variety of US colleges and universities.
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