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It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of college choices. Consider these do’s and don’ts as you begin to narrow down and finalize your school list.

  • DON’T disregard a school based solely on its tuition.According to the College Board, the average total cost of attending a private four-year college is $32,410. Yet very few families can afford to pay entirely out of pocket. Even families with substantial college savings plans typically find they are left with sizable amounts of need. There are various ways to lessen the financial burden, however, including grants and scholarships, loans and work-study. Families often use a combination to pay for college expenses.
  • DON’T be intimidated by schools that are “out-of-reach.”While your GPA and standardized test scores are typically most important, college admissions officers look for a variety of qualities in students that they admit. They consider your extracurricular and summer activity involvement, community service, athletics and diversity, whether geographic, ethnic or socioeconomic. In some ways, you need to stand out – and communicate how you are different in your application materials.
  • DON’T forget likely schools.With college admissions more competitive than it has ever been, it is critical that you apply to likely (or safety) schools – and, more importantly, that you be happy and excited to attend these schools. While there is not an exact number of schools to apply to, many applicants consider 8-10 colleges, with 2-3 likely, 3-4 target and 2-3 reach. Take the time to research which colleges are the best fit for you as well as your chances of admission.
  • DO consider the location of your schools.Whether you want to be close to or far from home, location is a criterion that you need to consider when building your college list. Ask yourself if you like cities, suburbs or college towns. Make college visits, multiple if possible, to see and experience various locations. Also keep in mind that often the further the college is from your home, the fewer the applicants from that region, and thus, the more likely you are to be admitted.
About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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