The “Goldilocks” Approach to College Selection

Springtime for eleventh graders provides an excellent opportunity to plan college visits.  Ideally, students have begun their preliminary research online, narrowing the search in the comfort of their homes before engaging in the journey to college campuses.  The search  can be daunting for parents as well as students. They have so many factors to consider, from the mundane to the academic: climate, location, school size, class sizes, academic offerings, campus type, tuition, activities, etc. These budding college applicants should develop a list that includes three categories: safety, probable, and “reach” schools.  They should carefully consider which of their “safety” schools they could thrive in, because the reality is that very selective schools are becoming almost “unreachable” for the vast majority of applicants. The Ivy Leagues usually have an acceptance rate in the single digits; Harvard accepted about 5% of applicants this year. State universities like UConn usually have a very wide acceptance range depending on the state (from 20%-55%).

Yet, before they enter a college admissions office or a tour group, students can receive assistance developing their lists with the help of an ever-growing number of websites and smart phone applications. Even before sorting through the web pages of individual colleges and universities, students can find an overview of many schools.  One site that I recommend to my students is  Initial categories for assisting with search include: school size, class size, climate, cost, location.  The site presents questions in each category that help the students to narrow their selections. Responses yield suggestions for colleges and lead to additional questions. For example, if someone prefers to be an active participant in class, then a small school with a low student-teacher ratio may be a good match.  I call this the “Goldilocks approach” to college selection. Students need to find the “just right” match in each of their categories.   Happy hunting!




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