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Just say NO to “Dream” Schools

Just say NO to “Dream” Schools
February 01, 20233 min read

Recently, I’ve seen posts in parent groups on Facebook about their kid, who is the perfect profile for a specific university, but was rejected from the school.  They want to know how it could be a fair world: their kid was rejected from their “dream school” when their kid was so “perfect” for the school.

Other parents commiserate and share their rejection stories too.  I wanted to know if this was entitled parents with blinders concerning their kids.  However, I realized that so much has changed since most current parents of college-age kids applied to school themselves.  They likely need more understanding of how the entire process has been altered since they did it themselves.  Several things have driven changes in college applications at different times. 

  1. Since the Common App was created in 1975, students have applied to more schools because of the ease of completing one application for many schools.  Over time the list of schools that accept the common app has grown.  Many state college systems have also developed independent common applications themselves. There is also more than one type of common app! 

  2. When college applications moved online, the speed with which applicants could complete more applications increased dramatically.  

  3. Colleges going test-optional during COVID is just one more trigger that increased the number of students applying for more spots at what we call “reach”* schools.  

  4. Even just improvements in internet infrastructure and marketing so more students are applying to schools further away.

Admissions were much more predictable when there was a greater emphasis on standardized test scores.  If you did not make the cut-off,  you didn’t get considered.  Fewer people applied, and there was less competition.  

Students in some states are even losing seats they believed were “reserved” for them because demand has grown so dramatically; more importantly, though, people have to learn now that these changes mean that some schools have become “Reach” schools for everyone.  

Admission decisions that may seem nonsensical often are no longer about the individual candidates.  Every candidate selected is a good pick, but if there are more qualified candidates than available slots,  some applicants never even get a good look.  

Admissions teams have priorities:  legacies, donors, kids, recruited athletes, artists, low-income, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging - even gender balance for a healthy social life.  They also have to balance department revenue and may only have a few slots for a student’s intended major.  If a new department is opened,  more students are admitted than others to cover the program cost.  

It is not wise, even if you have a school you love above the others, to set all your hopes on one school.  No matter what you want or how much of a good fit you are, admissions offices have university mandates to follow.

So when deciding on your Reach, Target, and Safety schools, make sure that you are equally happy with all choices to have the most excellent chance at winning the college admissions lottery.  

*In College Coaching, we ask students to categorize their schools into three groups:

  1.  Reach schools - Schools where you may be on the cusp of acceptance and are unique in some way, but you know the competition is high.

  2. Target schools - Schools where you would probably fit right in - you have surpassed all the requirements and have some exciting talents

  3. Safety schools - This may be a junior college, a smaller college, or a less prestigious local school.  

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