By V. Peter Pitts, M.A.
Parents, I would like to propose a slightly different approach to the college application process: Consider smaller schools with high acceptance rates.
My idea for this approach is influenced by the hundreds of high school students I’ve recruited over my 42-year career as a college admissions counselor at a small college of 800 students. Some of these students had an A+ average and nearly perfect test scores. They had it all: personality, writing skills, tons of extracurricular achievements, and leadership experience. They knew they could apply and get into almost any of the competitive colleges, but they chose our excellent school, even though it was not highly ranked.
These students were admitted within a couple of weeks and were immediately offered a scholarship that covered about 75 percent of their tuition. They competed for a full tuition scholarship in February, but most still enrolled even if they didn’t win.
By March, these students were all set and able to enjoy the rest of their senior year stress-free. This includes “B” and even “C+” students as well! Most graduated with close to zero debt. Schools such as the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Iowa, and Colorado State University welcomed these students into their master’s and/or doctorate programs.
You too can reduce the stress level of applying to college, but you must change your approach and consider small and mid-size schools with high acceptance rates. Forget the whole “reach, match, safety” concept, and replace it with “fit, fit, fit.”
There are a lot of excellent small-to-midsize colleges that don’t make you jump through hoops. These tips will help you and your student home in on them:
1. Avoid the highly “ranked” or “popular” colleges, even if you’re the high school valedictorian.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no “best college for X major.” Instead, keep your family’s budget in mind. Many students go to graduate school, and graduate school is expensive. Saving money during your undergraduate years will help ensure that you still have money for grad school.
Small and mid-size colleges as well as those with rolling admissions are your best options. Early action is okay, but stay clear of early decisions, which are binding.
2. Look for schools that have an acceptance rate of at least 70 to 75 percent.
Most of these are on the Common App, are test-optional, and require only transcripts and essays. Many of them don’t have an application fee.
3. Do the cost estimators for each college and avoid schools with high price tags even after merit aid.
You can also see the average cost after merit at different income levels on sites such as Niche and US News & World Report. Compare your estimated numbers to your family budget and try to stay within your budget.
4. Apply to colleges where you know you have a 99 percent chance of being admitted.
It’s easy to see statistics of incoming students on sites such as Cappex and Niche Many excellent colleges admit 75 to 99 percent of their applicants, especially if they’re high achieving.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend. –Road2College
5. Apply for admission at schools with high acceptance rates as early as August or September.
I know many college students like mine who applied in August, were admitted in September, did the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in October, got their aid award in November, and received their final decision by February or March.
6. Develop a strong relationship with the admissions representatives at each college.
You’ll want to make sure to visit the colleges, too, though it’s not always possible to get to them all.
7. Apply for public and private scholarships.
This is independent of the school you’re applying to, especially local ones, and expands your pool of potential aid.
8. Complete the FAFSA soon after October 1 and be prepared for verification and a possible “appeal due to special circumstances.”
Be aware, some schools also require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, a form used to determine eligibility for institutional aid. Do your own research about whether to apply to them or not. If you’re a family looking for need-based financial aid it may be advantageous to apply to these kinds of schools because that can be more generous with financial aid.
9. If you’re a high-achieving student, apply to any of the 100-plus colleges that offer full tuition scholarships by competition.
It’s important to note that those who participate in these competitions usually still get a ton of merit aid anyway. It’s also a good idea for high-achieving students to apply to colleges where less than 20 percent of students have your statistics. You need to be a shining light!
10. If you’re a C+/B- student, don’t apply to a college unless it admits at least 10 percent of its students with less than a B average.
Cappex and US News & World Report’s College Compass are good sites to find out these kinds of statistics. There are at least 325 of these colleges in the country.
Remember: A “dream college” approach can make for a stressful senior year and, for parents, a financial nightmare. Change your approach and consider smaller schools with high acceptance rates.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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