Starting Your College Planning? Ask Yourself These Questions


1. Do I want to go to college right after high school? A small, but growingnumberof students elect to take a “gap year” before starting college. They may use the time to travel, or work, or pursue volunteer projects. Manycolleges support the idea of a gap year.

2. Have I focused on only the most selective schools without considering my other options? Acceptance rates at the nation’s top schools continue to be very low. These schools routinely reject students who are at the top of their class in high school. At Yale, for example, the admit rate for the Class of 2017 hovered just below 7%. At Stanford, the rate was just below 6%. The University of Chicago admitted almost 9% of freshman class applicants, and at Vanderbilt only 12% of applicants were accepted.

This means that even the brightest high school students must research and apply to a range of schools that could be the “right fit” for them. Students routinely are given this advice, but they routinely ignore it. They aren’t enthusiastic about investigating any schools other than their top choices, and end up with acceptances from schools that they really aren’t excited about attending. And, they have no idea of the comparative financial costs of these schools. Why spend a year at one college, only to go through the hassle of transferring the next year?

High school students can avoid this trap by checking out and visiting a wide variety of schools. They can take advantage of online catalogues and viewbooks. They can refine their research by using web tools that predict their chances of admission. A well-executed “Plan B” can save a lot of time and trouble in the long run.

3. Have I become discouraged because my test scores were disappointing? Most colleges strive to take a “holistic” view of applicants by considering many factors, not just test scores, in making admission decisions. A little research on college websites can uncover the per cent of students admitted at different score levels. But, the fact remains that test scores play an important role in admissions decisions. So, students with mediocre test scores should consider “test optional” or “test flexible” colleges. Be warned: this alternative probably works best for students who would otherwise comfortably meet the school’s admission criteria, and it might not be available for transfer or international students.

At Franklin & Marshall, for example, students who believe that their standardized test scores don’t reflect their academic ability can instead submit two graded writing samples from their junior or senior year. At George Mason, score optional applicants must have a minimum high school GPA of 3.5, a “challenging” academic curriculum, and be in the top 20% of their high school class. George Mason also looks for evidence of “strong leadership and motivation.” The school cautions that admission to the school is “highly competitive” for all candidates, including those who don’t submit test scores. At Pitzer, students who are in the top 10% of their class or have an unweighted GPA of at least 3.4 don’t have to submit test scores.