Prep Talk Blog > April 2009

Do you cringe at the idea of going to some of the schools where you applied? The surprising truth is that a lot of students try to increase their admissions odds by sending applications even to schools that don't interest them.

Think about your search list for a moment. Does it look something like this?

Dream Schools: Where I would LOVE to go. This is my life’s ambition.
Target Schools: Where I would LIKE to go. This is a good fit for me.
Safety Schools: Where I would go, if I HAD to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

If you're nodding yes, then think your list through again. Consider this: If someone asked you to make a list of individuals to date for four years, wouldn’t you want to make sure that all the romantic candidates were exciting, attractive options? If, on the other hand, your list started with celebrity look-a-likes and trickled down to those you'd only consider if they were the last people on earth, then you're going to have problems.

A better approach is to start at the bottom and move up. You should make it your mission to find the one or two “safety schools” that are a sure bet for your personal strengths. You should be a rockstar candidate given their admission criteria but it would still be totally awesome for you spend four years in the environment they offer. If you can think of ten things you HATE about a safety school (or even a few), then it's not a safe choice at all!

Next, identify two or three target schools that you have a pretty good chance of impressing with your college application. These colleges are a great step up with some of the same characteristics that you like about your safety schools and some of the perks that you love about your dream schools.

Finally, you look at your dream schools with determination. If these colleges are your ideal matches, there is a pretty good chance that they are the most coveted and wooed candidates of the admissions world. Hey, it is great to compete and win- but this is often a numbers game. Apply to two or three dream schools with confidence, knowing that if they say “no”, you have a handful of backup colleges that would make you

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Stuck in the waiting line? Good news: Even if you were waitlisted, the admissions game might not be over. In fact, according to a recent Forbes article, it may have just begun.

Try to think of the whole admissions process as a strategy game. Your goal is to get into your dream college. The college's goal is fill every seat in their incoming class with top players, the ones that will help meet their season objectives. They may want students with particular expertise (writing, music, science, etc.) or students who come from unique backgrounds (ethnic or regional diversity). Those accepted in the first round are the college's “draft picks” and are, presumably, the applicants with the strongest applications overall. 

What the colleges don’t know, however, is which draft picks will choose to play on their team. The colleges need to fill each place on their roster but they cannot “overbook” by accepting too many students. Because they can't be entirely sure how many will enroll, they build a wait list. To sum it up, you are on the waitlist as a backup, if a position becomes available.

So, how do you get off the waitlist and get a position on the team? Forbes' writer Emily Schmitt gives this advice: “Emphasize your accomplishments and your interest. Be persistent, not annoying.”

Show the colleges that you really want a spot in their classes. Remember, the reason that they have a waitlist is because they are nervous about filling all their spots. Look carefully at the waitlist instructions that they sent and then review your college application. Did you leave out anything that would have demonstrated unique strengths or qualities that are not typical of average high school students? Mike Moyer, college admissions expert, describes an extraordinary accomplishment as a “non-teenage activity” meaning something above, beyond or different than normal high school stuff like athletics and student government.

After you have reviewed your application, call an admissions officer and ask what your application lacked. Consider their feedback carefully and don’t beg or harass them. They may ask you if anything has changed since you first applied. If so, have your strength list ready with new (and better) grades since your application was submitted, new awards and any (previously unsung) “non-teenage activities” that make you stand out as a strong applicant.

If the phone conversation goes well, offer to send a letter with a list of new developments. Ask if you should send or email it to them directly.

Finally, ask if you could have a short appointment to meet with them after they have reviewed the letter.

For more tips on how to win the waitlist game, check out  Kathleen Kingsbury’s advice from college admission departments, high school guidance counselors and college planning coaches.

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For many high school seniors and their families around this time of year, spring fever feels a lot more like "admissions fever". If your big college decision is causing night sweats, chills, and anxiety, then consider the following tips:

What counts most is not where you go to school, but what you do when you get there, according to a recent article in Forbes. Students tend to seek out the “best” colleges (i.e. highest ranking, hardest to get in to) because that is where they think they are going to learn the most, have the most fun, make the best friends, have the most growth opportunities, etc. But do students who go to the best colleges always have the best college experiences? Let’s think about this for a second: does choosing the most expensive and most prestigious resort ensure that you will have the best vacation? Not if you stay in the room and watch cable- you could do that at a budget motel. At any school, there will be students who have more or less positive experiences and better or worse social lives. Some of your classmates will graduate happy and successful and others will not, but that’s mostly on them, not on the school.  
Can you afford to commit to this college for over four years? This is a very important factor. Many good students never realize their dreams because they run out of money and give up. Make sure you choose a college where you can financially complete your education.
How does this college work for your lifestyle? Kate Scozzaro recommends considering the weather, freshman parking, meal plans, places of worship, visitor policies and opportunities to pursue your favorite activites. In short, choose a college that matches the whole you- not just your inner student.

Go where you can be you! Culture is so much more important than a ranking in the Princeton Review. You need to set up your own college ranking system. Does this college feel like the type of place where you could belong? Your future college will have a distinct culture similar to the way that cities tend to have their own cultures. Do you think that a New Yorker would feel at home in a Louisiana Bayou town? Maybe, but they better visit the swamps more than once to see if they could trade their taxis for fanboats!

My advice: Keep your college choice a personal decision that is based upon who you are and what you want and need. There are a lot of uncontrollable factors like what your dream college costs and what your family can realistically afford. However, the most important factor is completely within your control: how you make the most of your time at the school you choose.

Image by
Eszeter and used under a Creative Commons license.

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Got Hollywood ambitions? Now you can practice those directing chops and win money for college while you're at it. Upromise is launching Tuition Tales, a video contest with THREE $10,000 grand prizes!

To enter, submit a 30-second video by May 3rd to one of the three categories: Saving for College, In College Now, and Paying It Back. Online voters and a judging panel will narrow down the entries to 12 finalists based on quality, fit to theme, and creativity. Those 12 videos will then be voted on by the public. The top winners in each category will win $10,000 for higher education expenses, and all finalists win a $250 Bed Bath & Beyond® gift card and a $250 Bank of America® Visa® Gift Card.

The best part of all? Anyone can submit a video on your behalf as long as they're at least 18 years old. Your parents, siblings, and even friends can upload a video explaining why you deserve $10,000, and they can submit as many entries as they like. With so many opportunities to win, spread the word and get the cameras rolling. There's only a month before the deadline so now's the time to take "Action!"

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Don Munce