Creating a Balanced College List
Many students get their hearts set on one school, and if they don't get in, it's the end of the world – that’s exactly the wrong attitude to have! It is important for students to have a balanced college list of schools where they will be happy and successful. Remember, there are 36,000 high schools in the US, each of which has a valedictorian – and they can’t all get into Harvard (which enrolls about 1,600 students each year). In fact there are currently 19.7 million students enrolled in college in the US, and less than 60,000 of those students attend one of the eight Ivy League institutions.
So, if you have one of the following reach schools on your list, think carefully about why that particular school is on your list and what makes it a good academic and social fit for you. Then, look for those same criteria in schools that will be target or likely schools given your academic and personal profile. For example…
If you want to go to Harvard (acceptance rate 6.2%) based on its location in the quintessential college town of Boston, Massachusetts, consider that there are more than 100 colleges and universities in Boston and the surrounding area. Take a look at schools such as Boston College (acceptance rate 27.9%), Boston University (acceptance rate 47.7%), and Northeastern University (acceptance rate 34.4%).
Love Harvard’s tight-knit living arrangements? Consider the University of Southern California (acceptance rate 22.8%), whose housing office offers a special interest “communities” option; Harvey Mudd College (acceptance rate 19.5%), where each dorm possesses their own unique traditions such as the Long Tall Glasses, an annual formal affair hosted by North dorm; or Rice University (acceptance rate 18.6%), where freshmen are assigned to one of eleven residential colleges, each with their own dining halls, public rooms, residence facilities, and traditions.
If you want to go to Yale (acceptance rate 7.4%) because you’re intrigued by the mystery and tradition of the school’s secret societies, look at Emory University (acceptance rate 25.9%), Washington and Lee University (acceptance rate 17.4%), and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (acceptance rate 29.4%).
Emory has five secret societies—the Paladin Society, the D.V.S. Senior Honor Society, Ducemus, Speculum, and the Order of Ammon. Washington and Lee is home to the Sigma Society, whose members, while not anonymous, are quite tight-lipped about their rituals. The school is also home to the mysterious Cadaver Society, which has a bridge named after it and makes their presence known by leaving skull-emblazoned logos around campus. UNC’s Order of Gimghoul, is headquartered at the Gimghoul Castle and centers around the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who mysteriously disappeared from the UNC campus in 1833. The Order invites only men to join and is rumored to follow strict ideals of chivalry and Arthurian knighthood.
If you want to go to Penn (acceptance rate 12.3%) to study at the Wharton School of Business, you might like New York University (acceptance rate 25.6%) and the Stern School of Business, whose location in New York City provides access to one of the largest international business hubs in the world; Georgetown University, which is located in Washington DC (acceptance rate 18%), one of the most up-and-coming locations for young businessmen and women; and Babson College (acceptance rate 33.2%) in Babson Park, MA, whose Entrepreneurship program and small, close-knit student body draw business-saavy students from around the world.
If you want to go to Cornell (acceptance rate 18%) in Ithaca, NY to marvel at Ithaca’s natural beauty, take a look at the University of California Santa Barbara (acceptance rate 46.4%), whose campus has its own beach and lagoon; or Reed College (acceptance rate 40.5%) in Portland, OR, which is located on a nature reserve surrounded by a wooded wetland with various types of vegetation and animals. If you're excited about Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, Rochester Institute of Technology (acceptance rate 59%), Lexington College (acceptance rate 48.5%), and Drexel University (acceptance rate 55.8%) have similarly focused programs.
Ultimately, your future employer will probably be more concerned about who you are and what you have accomplished than about where you went to school. Where you go to school doesn't define you or your accomplishments; your college experience, and your life, are what you make of it.
Next, we look at Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Princeton, and how students can use the characteristics of these schools to build a balanced list of colleges where they will be happy and successful.