How to Build a College List (Part 3: Reach Schools)

Andy Wang
Andy Wang

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Reach schools are a dream-come-true for any college applicant. It’s one of the hardest parts of college planning; because it’s where the applicant has more or less accepted their chances of getting into the school are not high. However, college admissions is never a concrete formula. With a good positioning, any applicant has a chance. You deserve to apply to schools that would serve your goals even if your admission chances are low.

When applicants consider reach schools in their college planning, they should decide how to strategically apply to those schools. Let’s review three strategic decision-making processes that could help you.

First strategy

One common strategy often used by applicants centers around major/program focus. The idea is that you can apply to programs in your reach schools with more broad acceptance rates. If an applicant’s chances are already not high, it won’t be doing yourself any favors to apply to the school’s most competitive program. Granted, an applicant should make sure that there is a lot of flexibility in actually being able to transfer into the program and not being stuck in something that isn’t interesting to the applicant.

Second strategy

Applicants often categorize reach schools because academically they are below the averages usually accepted for those schools. When it comes to college planning, this is one of the hardest pills to swallow for applicants. However, by making up with for these statistics with solid extracurriculars or a good story, applicants still have a shot standing out. This does not mean to lie on one’s essays, but it just means to search hard for that unique story that doesn’t sound like the hundreds of essays admission officers will read.

Third strategy

One final method when building proliferating an applicant’s college list with reach schools is to consider early action/early decision. A couple of high tier universities have openly stated in college planning Q and A’s that applying EA/ED does improve admission chances. Notable institutions who have stated this include University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University.

When it comes to this final phase of college planning with picking reach schools, applicants need to utilize strategy to give themselves the best shot.

In summary: reach schools on your list

The underlying theme of this blog series has been how ambiguous college admissions can be. Given that reach schools are classified usually by a deficit in academics, we present three alternative ways to consider reach schools for your list.

  • Try applying to get into the school and then transferring into the program of interest. While schools have recently caught wind of this and are making it harder for inter-major transfers, it’s still a smart move for most reach schools.
  • Utilize your extracurricular activities. Almost every applicant has something that is unique to only him or her. Some of the most effective college essays have been odd stories but they tell a uncommon side of the applicant that make admission officers take a second look.
  • Apply early. It has become almost common knowledge now that schools like it when students show early interest. Applicants should utilize this to show passion for the school and make it clear that they believe that they belong there.

Questions? Let us know!