How to Develop a College Application Strategy


Applying to colleges is more than just achieving high grades, excellent standardized test scores, and fulfilling other requirements of a particular college. It requires intensive research as well. Of course, you'd want to begin by performing research that interests you, such as determining the location of where you want to spend the next 3-5 years of your educational journey, which type of major and program you're interested in pursuing, financial matters, and other factors that you, and your family feel are important for finding a right college fit. Admission consultants are always available to decrease the time you spend doing this type of work, but the truth is you can do much of this on your own.

Baker Library,At Harvard Business School,In Boston

Once you determine a major and type of school, you need to consider placing potential schools into three categories:Reach, Target, and Likely:

Reach schools are highly selective, with an acceptance rate of around 30% or less. Additionally, if your standardized test scores and GPA fall below the 50th percentile, then the school is a reach.

Target schools are moderately selective, with an acceptance rate of 30-60% or more. Additionally, your standardized test scores and GPA need to fall within the 50th-75th percentile of previously admitted students.

Likely schools are considered to have an acceptance rate of 60% or more. Your standardized test scores and GPA should fall above the 75th percentile of admitted students.

Therefore, you'll need to have final value for your cumulative GPA, standardized scores, and the data from the schools that you are interested in before placing them into Reach, Target, and Likely categories. Weighted and unweighted GPAs, SAT Superscores, and other factors need to be accounted for, but this is a simple method to jumpstart your research. A reliable resource for researching university or college data is College Navigator, provided by the United States Department of Education, or requesting assistance from an educational consultant or college admissions counselor.

Here are some tips to creating an ideal application strategy:

  • Choose 2-3 Reach schools, 3-5 Target schools, and 3-4 Likely schools.
  • Keep track of any restrictions in early application deadlines. Some schools have Restricted Early Action or Single-Choice Early Action which prohibits applying early to other schools. This is also true for applying to any programs that offer Early Decision.
  • Plan to apply to regular Early Action deadlines as often as possible. Ideally, you can apply to most of your schools Early Action. Data supports applying early results in better outcomes and provides early admitted students to stronger financial aid packages.
  • If you’re pursuing a major that is provided in multiple schools or colleges of the same university, research the data for each program to determine better chances of admission. For example, computer science majors are often available at schools of engineering and schools of arts and sciences.

By following these steps, you’ll put together an ideal application strategy and pave the way for plenty of options after submitting your college applications.