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Tips To Managing Realistic Expectations For College Admissions

Apr 18, 2023

As we all know, the really elite schools released some decisions recently. While some students may have gotten into their "dream" school, there were a lot of other hopeful students who were met with denials and disappointment.

While it is easy to simply look at the stats and encourage your child to apply, it's important to understand that there is more to college admissions than fitting into the stats of the school itself. We hear a lot of parents say, "My child meets the qualifications, they're definitely going to get in." Truth be told, there is no guarantee your child will get it in and the pressure of being accepted based off stats alone, opens the door to them feeling like they've disappointed you when they don't. This is a reality and we hear students say all the time that they are fearful of letting their parents down. 

For example:

When looking at a state school that has a 57% acceptance rate, one would automatically assume that it's not super selective. However, when breaking down the stats from the 57% of students admitted:

98% of the students ranked in the top 25% of their class.

72% (almost three quarters) were in the top 10% of their class.

50% of their students scored between a 28 and 33 on the ACT.

25% scored above a 33.

50% of their SAT scores were between a 1330 and 1460.

25% scored over a 1460. 

86% EXCEEDED the foreign language requirements.

99% EXCEEDED the math requirements

88% EXCEEDED the natural science requirements.

We know you may be also be thinking "my child's school doesn't provide information on their class ranking." However, there is enough information on the school statistics for colleges to gauge where your child falls. 

So when you look at your state requirements and you see you only need two foreign languages to graduate, they're looking at kids who have more, they're looking for kids who did more, who excelled more. This is a school that accepts 57% of their applicants and that's who they're accepting!

So let's talk about those really selective schools — Like UPenn. They had 59,000 applications this year and only 2,400 were accepted. That is only 4% of applicants!

The dean from the University of Pennsylvania wrote an article recently and mentioned as they start to choose the students, they reprioritize what else is needed on their remaining decisions. For example, this could include programs that still need filled, or another category/box that needs checked off. They want to create a student body that is diverse with experiences, goals, and skills, but of course these are all within certain limitations. 

We've had some parents ask if they child could increase their chances by applying to a program that is not so sought after. This obviously can backfire, when your child's resume doesn't support the major they are applying for. We had a student whose parent suggested she apply for a very specific major that would include classes within Shakespearean literature. However, she wasn't an outstanding student in English. She had nothing on her resume that that would indicate interest in Shakespeare – No book clubs, no previous theatre experience, etc. Instead it would have looked like she was applying for the major, so she could get accepted and then switch later on.

Colleges are a business and they need to fill all of their programs, so they're going to pick who they think is the best fit for them. They are evaluating if your child would stay in the program, their participation and reasons for wanting to be there.

Sometimes it also comes down to luck of the draw and where your child's application sits in the pile. When did they pull up their application, what box did they need to check at that moment? When talking about schools like UPenn only accepting 4% of applicants —that is a basically a lottery. It is a tough school to get into for that reason alone!

Your child has to know that it's not about them not being good enough. Again, colleges are a business and they are matching who they need with what's sitting in front of them at that point. It has nothing to do with how good of a student your child is. There is no huge statistical mass of students with a GPA of 3.3 applying to UPenn. Everyone has good grades, everyone has good test scores and majority of them will not and cannot get accepted. It's NOT because they weren't good enough. If your child is a male student going into Mechanical Engineering —It does NOT matter if they're better than the students already in the YES pile, they will not get in if they don't have anymore YES's to give/other criteria they need to fill.  

We ALWAYS ask our students, What's the dream? Not everyone else's dream for them, THEIR dream.

What school would they really want to attend AND why? Do they know what the campus is like, do they know what the vibe is like, do they know what type of activities, clubs, or what organizations are offered? What are the reasons they want to attend, aside from just being a college name they know of. If your child can't answer that for a school, they don't really know if they want to attend that school. It's just a dream because they've heard the name, but they might not necessarily know if that school is the right fit for them. 

Additional questions some students don't consider are how far are they willing to go? Do they want to be able to come home on the weekends? Maybe the distance is too much. Maybe they decide that they don't really want to travel across the country. Do they really want a flight for Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, grandma's birthday, or anything else big going on at home? Sometimes they find that right fit or they find what they feel will be the perfect school, but maybe the price tag is an issue, maybe they're not giving them a dime. You have to consider all of these things.

Setting your child up with realistic expectations and encouraging them to apply to a range of schools that meets their needs, creates a more balanced college list and as stress-free college application process as possible.

Creating a list and applying to reach, target, and safety schools helps take some of the pressure off of them. Helping your child understand all of the differences to find out what's important to them, really is beneficial in the long run. It also allows them to have a positive outlook when discussing college acceptances. So your child can take a deep breath around the holidays when they have family asking "so, where are you planning on going to school?" It allows them to say "I'm still waiting on this decision at this school, but I've already been accepted here and here" There is a lot of strategy that goes into this so that your child is happy throughout their senior year.  We want to make sure they are not stressed, they are not overwhelmed, they are not waiting for just the super selective schools and being disappointed if they're not getting in.

I helped a student this past year who was insistent on all reach schools. She said "I've worked so hard, I deserve this. If I just go to a target school, why did I have to work so hard? Why would I want to go with all those average students?" Well let me tell you, she's seen a lot of denials and she's on a couple of wait lists. Even after we repeatedly advised that she should expand her reach. 

We can't look at it like just because schools have higher GPA standard, that they are a better school or that attending that school makes you a better person, a better student.

Your child must to find the school that's the right fit, even for their long term goals. Sometimes the right fit is going to a school where everyone's GPA is lower than your child's because you know that the long term goal to go to Wharton for an MBA or to attend medical school. All of these things needs to be taken into consideration. And let's face it, parents, when's the last time somebody asked you where you graduated from?

People aren't asking you that after your first job. Students need to find the best fit that makes them feel at "home", the place where they're going to thrive, going to get involved, going to do more than just be a student, going to discover their interests, their passions, going to be able to make a huge network of friends and and expand their network for potential job opportunities in the future. You want them to find that balance, apply to the reach schools but don't be deterred from applying from their target and safety schools as well. 

I can't encourage that enough and it's not because we don't think that they should apply to reach schools. We actually have a lot of students accepted at reach schools. Even with those students who have been accepted this year, we told them at the start of the process – there is no guarantee just because you meet or are above the metrics that you will get in.  Let's make sure we have a whole strategy with other schools where you would be happy and let's really assess what does that mean? What will make your child happy once they're on campus?

Sometimes we know some basic things. They want a campus with a good school spirit, they want a certain vibe or maybe a particular academic program. I encourage you to dive deeper, have your child go on campus tours, talk to professors at different schools because then you get a real feel for how the curriculum is directed.

It is really important that you start having these conversations early and letting your child know that it's okay to look at a broad stretch of schools. Give them the opportunity to really broaden that scope early and let them know that it doesn't have to be all elite schools. It can be the school that you're comfortable at and has your program. It can be because you had a connection with a professor when you spoke with them. They have a great employment rate after graduation. They have a lot of opportunities for co-ops, internships, study abroad, Greek life, etc. Whatever the reasons may be, Help them pick the place that's best for them because that's where they're going to be happiest.

Decision day is May 1st of senior year. So they apply knowing that they still have time to make a decision between schools. They have time to wait for financial aid award letters. Set up your child's expectation that you will be happy for them wherever they go. Let them know that they are gonna knock it out of the park and do great things anywhere they go. That is the best gift you can give your child during this process!