Universitas Blog

Thou Shalt Love Thy Safeties: The Story of Jan and Marsha

Monday, February 16, 2015

I haven't written in a long time simply because I ran out of things to write about!  For anyone who's actually following my blog, I apologize.  I'll try to write more often but I just haven't had any ideas.  This will actually be my first post for the year 2015 and we're deep into its tenth week already!

I was suddenly inspired to write by great news from an excited friend.  His daughter was just given a full tuition ride to a fine undergraduate business school.  He was so proud...and he should be!  Congratulations and praises rang down left and right on his Facebook post.  But then he said something I thought was odd.  Not completely unexpected but a bit odd.  He said that they were still waiting on 10 or 11 other universities and was "praying really hard that she gets into one that she really likes."  For convenience, let's call this student "Marsha".  Not her real name, of course.

Flash back in time to about three or four months ago.  I had someone come into my office and she was an academic superstar.  Terrific grades, predicted perfect score of 45 on her IB, absolutely great student.  Her college list was of superstar quality too and was studded with names like Harvard, Northwestern and an early application (or more accurately, a restricted early application) to Princeton (she was later deferred, much to her great consternation).  She came in because she wanted to know if she should apply to safety schools and if I could recommend any to her.  Let's call this student "Jan".

(Jan and Marsha, get it?  Works on both Philippine (John & Marsha) audiences and US (The Brady Bunch) audiences)

I think for both Jan and Marsha (more evident in Jan rather than Marsha actually) they both approached the generation of their college list like so:  they listed the schools they really wanted to go to then as a safety shoved in maybe two or three more names of schools they can easily be admitted to.  This was certainly the case with Jan.  I felt that she wasn't interested in the safeties....she wanted them there just to have them there, because she had to have safeties. With Marsha, the situation is a bit different.  She has three safeties and though she claimed to love them, you could really feel that there was definitely a hierarchy in her list and she would really prefer not to attend any of her safeties (full tuition scholarships notwithstanding).   Though I'm not privy to her full college list (much less her thoughts), I know there are applications to big names like Georgetown and Northwestern in there.  Maybe an Ivy or two for those obligatory reaches.   While it's natural to prefer some schools on your list over others, I can't help but feel that the list is more prestige driven (which is fine) and that she would rather attend a more prestigious institution than a lesser known school.  Again, I don't have access to her thoughts but her safeties just felt a bit tacked on to me.

So why am I bringing up Jan and Marsha?  Well, certainly not because I wanted to criticize their choices or college lists.  They have to do what's right for them and I certainly respect their choices on where to apply.  I think both have come up with good college lists and I feel sure that they will be admitted somewhere...and in Jan's case, she already has one in the bag.  I brought them up because I wanted to bring up how a college list should ideally be put together.

Again, like most kids, Jan and Marsha put together a college want list and (at least in Jan's case) included safeties in the end almost like an afterthought.  I think that's not what is supposed to happen.  Ideally, one's final college list should consist ONLY of schools that one is genuinely ecstatic about and one should genuinely be happy to attend ANY one of them. Of course, it's natural to prefer some schools over others but you should be thrilled to death even if you were accepted to only one (safety) school and all the rest turned you down.  I honestly don't think that's the case for either Jan or Marsha.

Okay, from the list of the schools you really like, you can sort them to see which are reaches, probables, and safeties and everything in between.  Yes, you can have schools which are kind of in between.  Then scrutinize the list.  Ideally, no more than a third or less of your list should be reaches.  What if you have too many reaches (very likely to happen if one is too prestige driven)?   That's a sign that you should continue digging and looking for schools that you REALLY like, are a great fit for, and is more in line with your academic profile.  In the end, you should have a list of about six to eight schools (maximum is ten) all in a spectrum of admission possibilities from reaches to sure things.  Think about it:  if you do your search this way, there is NO WAY you can lose!  You WILL be admitted to a school that you love and who loves you back.  And you can keep the number of colleges you are applying to to a sane figure of six or eight.  

But if you put safeties in as an afterthought, you run this very real risk:  what if you're only admitted to one of your safeties and all the others turn you down?  Then what?  You'll really be down, that's what.  But if you really and truly love your safeties, then who cares where you were admitted to, even if you were only admitted to one?  You love it, right?  Right???

I don't know how the stories of Jan and Marsha will ultimately end.  But I know that they will be happy endings because both girls will surely be admitted somewhere.   I wish they had done their searches a bit differently but I'm sure all will end well.  Congratulations to both of them.

As an epilogue, let me tell you about the college list of someone I know.  His list was generated from a genuine interest in the schools after having visited all but one of them in the summer.  He had six schools.  One was a definite reach (denied), one was a moderate reach (admitted), two were targets or probables (one admit, one deny), one was between a safety and a probable (admitted) and one was a definite safety (admitted).  You can see from this list of six schools that he had a wide variety of admission possibilities and he was admitted to four of his six candidates.  Eventually, he attended the one that was between a safety and a probable...and that one was actually his first choice, not the reach one.  As far as I know, he is really happy where he is.



John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com
+63 (917) 833-3825


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John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com

+63 (917) 833-3825

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