Episode 93: A Few Notes on College Application Strategy

Episode 93: A Few Notes on College Application Strategy

Date of Publication/发布日期
November 4, 2022
Curtis Westbay
Files & media
Volume 3 2022-2023

What is “application strategy?”

As our seniors have just completed their submission of early round applications, I thought it would be timely to talk about what goes into these decisions about to which schools students apply. In every student’s school list, there are applications of varying admission likelihood. We typically refer to these likelihoods as “far reach,” “reach,” “match,” and “likely.” In a strategically-sound school list, there isn’t too much emphasis on the more implausible applications.

Application strategy refers to the composition of a student’s school list, so that, in the likely event that they are denied by all the “far reach” and “reach” schools on their list, a student still has college options that excite them.

Why does the balance of a school list matter?

For this reason, we encourage students to put a lot of time and attention into all of the schools on their college list, not just the ones that they are least likely to get into. In applying to the schools on their college list, a student is often expected to demonstrate their interest in each school. This element is more opaque in its importance to different schools—i.e. there’s no declaration of how interest is evaluated, nor of how valuable it may be to a school.

Students have a tendency to overvalue the overall college rank as a shorthand for quality. In fixing their attention solely on this one factor, they may arrive at the college application season with weak reasons for the schools on their list that aren’t reach or far reach schools. From this point, they may undermine their candidacy to match and likely schools, overconfident in their likelihood of admission. As colleges see an increase in student applications, there are doubtlessly times when they receive applications from students who seem uninterested. They could look at students whose academic data suggest that they are well qualified to succeed at their school and still feel skeptical. If a student doesn’t demonstrate interest sufficiently because they aren’t sufficiently interested, it may come across in their applications. No college wants to inflate their selectivity by admitting students who, in all likelihood, were never that interested in enrolling, anyway.

This speaks to the importance of college research, even without considering the benefits to a student of deeper research that they experience, personally. With thorough introspection and research, a student will know what they want and why they want it, and colleges will look at them more seriously.

Why is a student’s choice of Early Decision school important?

In recent trends of admission, schools that have been burned like this in the past decade—schools that were treated like “safety schools”—are not eager to admit students who will jump at the opportunity to attend a more highly-ranked school, if admitted.

The inclusion of selectivity and yield in publication rankings gave rise to the widespread adoption of Early Decision admission plans, and now, we see the extent to which many colleges have grown more and more reliant on Early Decision applications to maintain or elevate their ranking position.

The reasoning is simple: admitting students via an Early Decision agreement is a sure thing. You can compose your incoming class of students who have committed to a binding agreement without fear of them choosing a different college destination. As more students apply to double-digit numbers of schools, this helps with the operational consistency and financial well-being of enrollment management.

With a consistent base of enrollment coming from the Early Decision round, schools can feel more certain that, as students respond to Regular Decision offers, they won’t be left with the problems of over- or under-enrollment. This, as we have seen, has a complication effect on making a well-balanced school list, especially for those students whose primary (or singular) consideration is overall ranking.