college admissions College Application Secrets Insider Tips Ivy Admissions Statistics

THE BIG QUESTION LOOMS: Which College is Right for Me?

For many rising seniors the overwhelming prospect of writing college essays is muddled up with the larger concern: “WHERE DO I APPLY?”

Students ask themselves:

  • What do I need to do to get into college?
  • Am I good enough to get accepted?
  • Where should I visit?
  • Will I be looked at by an Ivy-level college with my current grades and scores?
  • Should I apply Early Decision?


Deciding on an application strategy is critical for many reasons. First, you want to apply to the right range of schools; understanding that range is determined by scores and grades first. And, you want to apply where your odds go up the most and of course you want to apply to a school that offers you the academic home you are seeking, matched with your interests.

Be wary of the cheesy online quizzes that claim to match you with just the right college. Instead, pick up a copy of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges . Then, head to your college counseling office to thumb through good old-fashioned college catalogs. Read about schools online and sign up for information on their websites. Talk to cousins, older friends, and even your parents’ friends to get their opinions on schools. Ask specifics: “What was the best thing about studying at Vanderbilt and what do you wish you had done there that you didn’t?” — “I hear that Brown will let you design your own concentration. Did you take advantage of that option?”


When creating a college list, and we encourage younger students to begin college visits early so they can get a feel for what they like: urban campus, rural campus, single sex school, large university — students need to be attentive to the following data:

Admissions Statistics: Turn to a number of resources to determine this information both generally and how it relates to you. Begin with Best Colleges 2017: Find the Best Colleges for You!

Standardized Test Specifics: Start with your high school profile as it’s always interesting to see the average ACT or SAT for your school. Then, review information in your state; see information from the College Board. And, most importantly, review the US News and World Report 25-75% test averages from accepted students. You want to aim for the 75%, especially if you don’t have a special hook such as being an athletic recruit or a minority student. And, review the AP Scholar Awards so you can determine if your scores qualify you.


Start by going to our College Calculator to enter in your information into the Academic Index rubric. We’ve made it easy for you to calculate your chances: HERE.


Once you’ve identified colleges of interest, do your research and figure out what their application options are? You definitely want to use a strategy to leverage the early round where odds go up by 3-6x at some schools.

Check out our early stats for the Class of 2021 and see for yourself the boost applying in early November will give you. Now, you aren’t going to cross a huge chasm just because you apply binding Early Decision to a school. So if your scores are in the low 600s and you are in the bottom half of your class, you won’t get into Columbia JUST because you are applying Early Decision. But you would already know that because you reviewed the admissions stats as we suggested above. If you are in range of a school then applying early can bump you in.

Create your own organizational grid and plot your schools according to which options you would use.



Single-Choice Early Action:

Early Action (non-binding):

Early Decision (binding so only one):

Early Decision II (binding so only one):



A picture says a thousand words. See our infographic to help you take action if you are starting high school and for those rising seniors, ask yourself if your grades, scores, high level initiative, awards, scores and academic focus make you an Ivy-level candidate.

Ivy League college application strategy


  • Visit the school and in particular visit the specific academic department of interest – some schools track level of interest which means when on campus if you post a photo of the main quad on Instagram they know it. Always sign in at the admissions office so they have record of your visit.
  • Explore the campus’ libraries in person or online. What offerings do they have that make them unique? Can you envision studying there?
  • Research is becoming increasingly important for undergraduates as they seek faculty connections, lab experience, conference presentation options, co-authorship and publishing opportunities. Explore the college’s undergraduate research conference –most colleges have these now. Can you attend in person? Or just read about it online? Watch a podcast of a few presentations from the 2017 conference? EX: UCLA had an Undergraduate Research Conference in Chem and Bio as detailed here. Boston College has an annual Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference.
  • Read more about the school from students themselves, check out
  • Read the campus newspaper (most are online). EX: The Tufts Daily
  • Research WHY the school is the right fit for you and use that specific information if the supplemental essay asks why you are applying. Do they have a beautiful new theater complex where you can showcase your acting talents? Can you contribute to the sustainability efforts on campus? You get the idea.


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