At a certain point, students have to make hard choices about college.

Specifically, they have to choose which ones will and won’t make the cut.

They also need to make sure they have more than just the most selective colleges on the list.

Preparing the optimal college list makes use of the “Goldilocks” principle: not too big, not too small, but just right. Translated out of fairy-tale speak, that means reach schools need to be mixed with match colleges and a few likely schools.

The breakdown looks like this:

  • 3 Reach Colleges
  • 3 Match Colleges
  • 3 Likely Colleges

    1. You don’t have too many reach schools

The problem that leads to the most disappointed tears is filling the whole college list with universities boasting minuscule acceptance rates or whose typical student profile doesn’t match your own.

The number of kids who have gotten into all eight Ivy League schools can basically be counted on two hands. Which is not to say that your student won’t be numbered among them, but it’s better to get acceptance letters than rejection letters.

According to the Harvard website, there were 42,749 applicants to the Class of 2022.

Harvard admitted 2,024 of them, which is only 5.6%.

It’s pretty much the same story at all the Tier I universities. There are far, far more qualified applicants than the number who get admitted.

At the same time, if you don’t apply, you have a 100% chance of not getting chosen.

This is where the need for balance helps a college list transform from a wishlist to a recipe for success. Think beyond the rankings. There are amazing educational experiences to be had at colleges around the country. Find a college counselor with extensive knowledge of college programs and environments to help broaden your horizons.

    2. You have options in case you change your mind

Cast your college application net wide enough to give you choices.

The thing you don’t want? Just one option.

The thing you do want? Lots of options.

At the end of the long, hard application road, your student should have several offer letters, most of which will be very tempting.

Because the application process begins so early (10th grade is not too early to begin thinking about colleges), by the time the high school senior is making a decision, his or her goals will likely have changed from where they began.

In state or out of state?
Private or public?
Arts or sciences?
Double major or interdisciplinary?
Sports recruitment? On-campus living? Greek life?

Don’t let her be forced to choose the mediocre financial aid package at a private out of state school with a small biology program because that is the only offer she received.

Encourage him to apply to several match schools so he has the exciting choice of weighing the best out of many good choices.

    3. You would be happy with any school on your list

This means selecting a spread of universities that will have your student jumping with joy when any or all of the universities send their acceptances—not just the top three.

The best way to ensure that your college list is balanced enough that even the likely schools will provide a fantastic education and enjoyable college experience is to research, prepare, and choose wisely.

    Research

Find out how many applicants colleges accept, what the cost of attendance is, what their requirements for freshmen are, and whether they’ll recognize any dual or AP® credit. Laying this kind of groundwork will help make the decision easier going forward.

Freshmen are required to live on campus and buy a meal plan? Maybe that’s great news—or it isn’t for you. Find out ahead of time.

    Prepare

Take the time to prepare the best possible application to all of the schools, not just the dream list.

A good college counselor can help students prepare strong applications, prepare for important admissions interviews, and stay on track during the process. To learn more about KD College Prep’s College Counseling services, contact a campus or click here.

    Be Selective

Encourage your high schooler to think like a college student by sending a spread of applications that would satisfy even Goldilocks.

If the colleges on your student’s list aren’t all too hard or all too easy but are mostly just right, you will have a lot to celebrate together when you get to choose the best-fit college in the end.