Meg Glass & Associates, LLC

Making Sense of College List

Difficulty Understanding Your College Lists


Has a school counselor or some other website guidance portal, such as The Big Future or Guided Path, categorized your school choices as safeties, targets, and reaches? Do you not see how the schools are ranked for your list? Does it confuse you?

Well, you are certainly one of millions of soon to be college students who are confused by the whole process. First, there is no one correct system! Yes, this is true, each uses a number of factors that are input either by you or your counselor to create such a list. Some of the variables to the equation are: your GPA, your SAT or ACT test scores, the level of academic rigor to your courses (such as honors or AP or IB), and your geography. Personal factors such as legacy status or recruiting are not able to be categorized by most systems that churn out lists. So usually they are reserved as un-ranked possibilities.

Most school counselors send a detail description of what the categories, such as likely, possible, and reach mean. Some will also put a school in more than one category if there is a change in potential based on Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular decision. Some schools accept over 50% of first year class through an early process, so by choosing early, your possibility for acceptance might change from likely to possible.

How accurate are these lists? Well, some are pretty close to reality, whereas others are not because they do not take into consideration other factors. Naviance has the base of each particular school and customizes the lists in accordance with the history of the school. However, this can be a good thing or not. Some colleges have geographical challenges with a far greater number of applications coming from a particular area, and Naviance only limits its predictors to the school account using it. It is a distorted picture because in that school there might be more “influencers” for some schools, such as athletic recruitment or legacy parents who give a lot of money. This makes the dynamic of the base different.

Let me make this somewhat clearer. One local private school in my own area has had a large volume of donors from legacy parents to a school in the South. The school is a reach, really, for any candidate not being recruited from its popularity and academic prestige. It is a stellar institution which receives tens of thousands of applications each year. It accepts about 67% of its incoming freshman class early. A student from the local school got her first list, via Naviance and her counselor, in junior spring. Based on the data from her class in the Naviance system at that moment, the list said that this prestigious Southern University was a likely or safety school for her. Her mother was rather incredulous with the list to begin with, and when I saw it, I laughed. I knew there was no way that school was a safety, regardless of how high her daughter’s GPA and SAT scores were, and the mother asked me what I would class the school as, and I replied a reach. I believe the school is a reach for anyone, other than those specifically recruited by it, because it is very competitive and in a super attractive city at this moment. So as the local private school class advanced through the spring and into the summer, the students got grades, AP scores, and more SAT/ACT scores to enter into the school’s Naviance system. By the fall, her daughter’s list had changed dramatically, and the prestigious Southern school was not even on the list as a Far Reach! In fact, the counselor called the mother and told her that she needed to add some local small state schools as safeties, as there were not enough on her daughter’s list.

This is just an example of how what is simply an aggregation of statistics is used in a rubric to create a prediction. Is it accurate? No, not one is actually accurate, but the longer and deeper the statistics are fed into the database, the better it is at narrowing down options. You do not have to use the one from school; you can use The Guided Path or The Big Future. Both do basically the same as any school system, but the results you see will or could be very different in terms of ranking your school options.

A good counselor or consultant will have some familiarity with the current state of affairs in terms of specific local schools and colleges. Some schools have good relationships with colleges because as the years have gone on, the students that are accepted attend the college, and those students do well. So the school Admissions has a documented history that is favorable. Some colleges are all about numbers, and others are more interested in students and a bit more willing to expand beyond the numbers. One statistic that is getting beaten up and tossed out by many schools is the actual ACT/SAT score as many schools are going test optional. So this means your academic course rigor and your GPA are becoming more heavily weighed during the decision process.

It is a challenge to decipher all the statistics and make really accurate predictions, but having a good handle on at least three or four safeties, five to seven targets, and four or five reaches is a start. Looking at that as a beginning is how you can start to refine and see how your individual profile is better matched for some schools. You are looking for not just a good match, but also a bet fit school for you. If you cannot afford to travel to all the schools, this refining process can narrow down which schools you should try to see before you apply. Some colleges offer some financial reimbursement for visits, based on income status and need. So do not be discouraged if you are limited to one visit to a good match. Colleges do not hold it against you, if you cannot actually visit.

Use the programs available to help, and if you are able, it is always nice to get an outside opinion from a consultant because consultants deal with all the schools in an area and are better able to comment for your particular geography and how your school is faring in this annual process. Need some quick guidance, contact us!