Selective Colleges – SUCCESS!

By Robert LeVine

A few weeks ago, America’s most selective colleges informed their applicants who would be offered admission and who would not. Some students are ecstatic, while others moan that their lives are over.

We should redefine success. This is not about a family’s resume; it is about a student’s lifetime success. Finding the best possible opportunities – both environmental and economic – requires more than simply looking at rankings and believing blindly that you DESERVE a spot in the Ivy League or at Stanford or MIT. Success in college admissions results from an intelligent selection of potential colleges.

Students and high school counselors typically speak of “reach” and “safety” schools. The first term applies to very, very selective colleges with worldwide reputations. The second usually means local options that seem easily within an applicant’s grasp. A good outcome requires more than an “all or nothing” approach.

To be successful at the end of the admissions season, students must create a list of colleges with a blend of selectivity, from most selective to least, plus everything in between. Every school on the list must have the best possible blend of academic rigor, suitable curricular design, robust assets, and inspiring environment.

In researching colleges, focus on underappreciated schools. These are sometimes called “Tier 2” or “Mid-grade” colleges, but those terms are unfair. These are outstanding educational institutions that are merely less known and thus less “selective” than the top-10 schools. Looking for excellent options that are reasonably attainable will give a student choices when it’s time to pick from college offers. This will also provide intriguing monetary options, allowing for cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses.

Although we tend to think of colleges as ivory towers that hold all the leverage, in truth the colleges themselves are competing against each other. Because most highly-selective schools only “yield” less than 50% of the students to whom they make offers, they have to entice students to attend. The most effective method for collecting students is by throwing money at favorite applicants. Who doesn’t want a full academic scholarship?!

A successful college list – one that provides good choices after Decision Day – has a blend of selectivity, but EVERY school on the list must be a good fit for the student’s academic and personal growth. You must understand not just what a university teaches, but also how it structures the curriculum. Are students required to take certain courses, or are they given more flexibility? In addition, factors like location, student body profile, and even campus layout can affect the overall education.

Making an effective college list is more than reviewing rankings, and college admissions websites are notoriously poor. You must also realize that universities are marketing and mining for applicants. There are effective techniques for comparison and contrast, but unless you’re an expert at the task – and even if you are – it can be hard to differentiate.

Nevertheless, we must try. Your research should start in the Spring of 11th grade. Over the next month or so, top colleges will be touring your area to sell their stories to eager students. To obtain success, lay the groundwork now by creating a blended list of colleges that fit you well. Students who might find themselves just shy of their dream schools can find amazing success in underappreciated universities.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email [email protected] or visit