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Parent of a high school sophomore or junior? There are two things you should do today to help your child begin the college search
Bucket schools, reduce stress: Safety, Probable, Target, Reach
Written by Jack Delehey on Mar 5th 2021
Spring vibes are just around the corner. Soon, we’ll be trading in our winter jackets and hats for light windbreakers and sunglasses.

For my students, particularly my juniors, this time of year marks a transition as well. Just as we all transition our clothing, my high school juniors transition their school lists from “unlimited exploration” mode to “let’s start getting down to a manageable number of schools to consider.”

With this transition comes an important realization: a student’s realistic chances of acceptance differ from school to school...and this is something that can, and should, be taken into account.
 Why is this important? There are two main reasons:

1) Realistic admissions expectations help students keep their eye on the prize: a balanced school list. I don’t care if a child has a 4.0 GPA and a 1600 on their SAT. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I said they should only apply to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and call it a day. Those schools are Reach schools for anyone these days. And I truly mean anyone. Having realistic expectations allows students not to get caught up in name brand colleges and feelings of “I must attend XYZ schools and if not I’m a failure.” Instead, seeing acceptance chances laid out helps students relax. If you want to put Harvard on your list, go for it! But it better be in that far left hand Reach column. Once students see this, they are much more willing to balance their list with schools that end up on the right side of their College Planning Chart, (example shown above).
2) Financially-responsible parents, take note of this one: With varying admissions chances likely comes varying amounts of financial support (otherwise known as money) that may arrive with an acceptance letter. Not to knock on Harvard here, but it’s an easy scapegoat most people can relate to. Harvard, as you can imagine, does not need to send money along with acceptances. When students get into Harvard, they attend. In fact 82% of them attend. That’s the highest yield % in the country. So, you can see why sweetening the deal with financial incentives is unnecessary. Now on the other hand, if you are a school trying to break the top 100 on the US News & World Report Rankings...and you receive an application from a 3.9/1520 can see why you may toss in a $15,000/year “grant” (aka free money) in the envelope with the acceptance letter. Summary: your Reach schools will not willingly give you merit scholarship money; your Safety schools are much more likely to do so (and it’s somewhere in between for Target/Probable zones).

If you have read this far, props to you. I think of all my messages, this is one of the most important: realistic admissions expectations drastically reduces stress for all. Given you’ve read this far, you’re probably a caring parent who wants the best for your child. So, here’s a gift to help make your job perhaps slightly easier:

Here is a link to my 100% free College Planning Template, identical to the one you see pictured above. If you’d like, open it, make a copy for yourself, and give to your child if you think they’ll use it. As your high schooler starts to build his/her list, I recommend placing schools on here and dropping the schools into the four buckets shown (if you want to get really picky, I always align the first letter of the school name with the exact % chance I think my student has of acceptance).
Lastly, I know the question I’ll receive next: “How do I know my child’s acceptance chances?” Here are my two favorite programs that utilize scatterplot charts (GPA & Standardized Test scores on the axis show which students are typically accepted and which are rejected):
1) Naviance: only 44% of high schools pay to have this program. If your child does, use it. It’s the best.
2) a solid alternative to #1

I hope this helps. Happy college list organizing (here’s the link to the template again).

Committed to helping students & parents experience a stress-free college search

P.S. If you are interested in a step-by-step college planning system for your child (bucketing schools into Safety, Probable, Target, Reach is just one of the many necessary components to college planning) click here to book a time to chat with me for free (or pass the link along to your fellow parent that might be able to use it)!

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO.  It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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