Get Your Act Together You Will Be Just Fine: How to Choose a Reach School, feat. Wisdom from the Spice Girls

Some of you might read the headline of this post and think “Forget spicing up my life! I just want to get in somewhere…anywhere!” Others might think, “Rules are for fools. Harvard’s my fallback.” For the duration of this post, we encourage you to set aside your fears, your ego, and relax your mind. In fact, conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that applications, like harmonies, are nicer when diversified. Au contraire, mon frère. Adding more reach schools to your list ensures nothing. Fun, right? Okay, so what’s the point of even trying if applying to more reach schools doesn’t mean you have a shot at getting into any of them? We’ve come up with a simple guidebook on how to hedge your bets. So, here’s the story from A to Z:

When picking our reach schools, we often start with our dreams. Yet, while choosing a reach school is not rocket science, it is scientific. The first step to devising your strategy around reach schools is to choose one to two that are just out of your reach. So, look at the test scores of accepted students for each school and identify those in which you fall into the 75th percentile. Then, take a look in the mirror.  Has your trumpet been blowing for a little too long? When you were a kid, your parents may have told you that anything is possible. For God’s sake, you learned to walk three months earlier than the average child!! But getting into a school whose score range is a 33-35 when you got a 26 on the ACT is not a reach; it’s an impossibility and time will never change it. Applying with a 33, however, is a reach.

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

So, who do you think you are? Some kind of superstar? One of our writers thought so of herself in high school. She was president of her class, lead in the plays, and a community-service machine who dreamed of going to Yale. She even learned the fight song and got a recommendation from her principal, an alum of the school. However, no recommendation, no extra-curricular, no essay could have turned her 29 into a 34. She didn’t get in. The takeaway wasn’t that she should spend the time or money applying to Yale on a wish, but rather, to use her affinity for Yale to guide her choice for her actual reach schools. Clearly, she was interested in a school that was prestigious, traditional, brimming with school spirit, mid-sized, with a strong history program, and located in the northeast.

Put Two and Two Together

The real way to pick is to go by the personality of the school and the programs you want to pursue. Those criteria should also be weighted equally. So, if you’re naturally extroverted, looking for a robust social life, want to study business, and rocked the SAT, Penn is a good choice for your reach school and Michigan is a good target for you. Amherst and Pamona, however, are probably not good choices, even though they are highly-ranked schools. The bottom line: don’t apply to traditionally reach schools simply because you can.

Living It up Is a State of Mind: Four Fast Rules   

Each Ivy is really different. Remember, you’re picking based on personality and programs.  Not all Ivies are the same and you want to land at a school that you’ll love in the end.

  • Stop right now, thank you very much: Don’t apply to Cornell just because it’s an Ivy

Sorry Cornell, but most high schoolers don’t actually dream of going here. They apply because it’s an Ivy. Check your ego at the door and remember that being happy for four years will give you better odds of succeeding than slogging through your college career at a school that’s not giving you everything, no matter how much joy you bring.  

  • For Generation Next: Don’t apply to the school where your parents went because you think legacy will help you.

It won’t.

  • Keep searching. Who knows what you might find: Don’t apply if your scores aren’t in the school’s target range

It doesn’t matter how long you spend on your essays, how good your recommendations are, or how many extra-curriculars you do.  If you got a 29 on the ACT and are applying to a school whose low-average is a 35, you’re not getting in.

PS:  Everything will work out fine.

Feeling a little tone deaf on those reaches? Enlist a coach. We are experts in matching our students with the right schools for them.