Finding the right colleges

What to expect:

  • Intro
  • The initial search
  • Knowing where you stand
  • Trimming the fat
  • An example
  • Shotgunning vs rifling
  • Ending thoughts

Posted a bit early since a friend asked for it.

It’s almost May 1st! And with that is the last day to finally choose your college! I’ll be talking about how to get an initial batch of schools, and how to sort them out between safety, target, and reach schools.

The initial search

Ask yourself a couple questions before you start searching. Do you want to stay in state / near home? Do you have enough money to afford private colleges? Are you going after the prestige? Once you have these questions answered, look for colleges that would fit this criteria.

Start off with 40 colleges that you’d like to attend. Have at least two safety schools that are near home, and you can expand from there.

What do safety, target, and reach schools mean? A safety school is one that you’re probably guaranteed to get into. A target school is one that you have a good shot of getting into, but still open to the possibility of getting rejected. Lastly, a reach school is one that you probably will not get into, but are trying anyway.

Trimming the fat

  • Acceptance rate

    • You can’t rely on acceptance rates just by looking them up. Acceptance rates have been dramatically lowered with the advent of shotgunning (more on this later) as well as dependant on the major you select.
  • Cost

    • ex: Are you paying for college? How much debt do you want to be in?
  • Program

    • ex: Can you thrive in a highly competitive environment where grade deflation is common?
  • Overall vibe (you can only get this from touring the college)

    • location: Are you near an urban area with plenty of activities to do during downtime?
    • students: Do the demographics fit? Is the culture there what you’re looking for?
    • campus: Is the campus a place you’ll see yourself conducive to learning?

In the end, have at least 5 schools you’ll want to pick. Two safeties, two targets, one reach.

An example

Let’s try this with my dream school, and the one I’m committed to, UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley’s acceptance rate toward computing related majors is capped, and highly competitive, which immediately puts this in high target, low reach. I don’t have this higher since I’m a California resident, and attended community college. However, they released new information which actually put the acceptance rate similar to, if not lower, than Stanford’s; I’d recategorize this into reach.

Cost. Cost wasn’t an issue, but regardless it is extremely low which gave it a couple more points in my want list.

Program. Berkeley’s computing majors considered the holy grail of Silicon Valley, and second-to-none in the public school space. The only school that can contend with Berkeley would be MIT.

Vibe. During high school, you could pretty much call me a psuedo-Berkeley student. I had lots of friends who already attended, frequented parties, took classes, and knew exactly what I was getting into. I frequented the Berkeley libraries, so the campus was an immediate match. Berkeley isn’t far from home, meaning I could take advantages of all the comforts home could offer.

Berkeley? Extremely high on the rankings.

Shotgunning vs rifling

You may hear students talking about “shotgunning” to 20+ schools. Shotgunning refers to applying to a large amount of “reach” schools since quantity > quality. In the end, I only recommend this strategy if you start this early to really put good effort on your essays and have a lot of cash to burn.

The more traditional approach, “rifling”, is the one I’d advise everyone else to take. It’s a more safe and budget-friendly apporach where you do an even split of schools, ie: 2 safeties, 4 targets, 2 reaches.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really reccommend it, especially if there are schools that you applied to that you won’t even go to, but at the end of the day it’s all about how much money you want to waste.

Final thoughts

The best way to approach this: don’t have a dream school, but have a dream safety; you’ll feel a lot better in the end. If you get rejected, don’t feel too bad, and just probably know it’s for the best.

This article is part of a whole guide to getting into college. View it here!