What is a reach school? If quantified, a reach school is a college where a student’s high school grades and test scores are not likely to be in the top quarter of the previous year’s applicant pool.
If you buy a copy of U.S. News Best Colleges, for example, you will see an average GPA for most colleges as well as a range for the middle 50 percent of SAT or ACT scores. If your GPA is below the average for a particular college, and not likely to rise above it, even with near perfect grades in the first half of the senior year, and your scores are below the 25th percentile, then the school is a reach.
These schools frequently turn away students who have achieved excellence in the classroom and have scored extremely high on standardized tests. Those who were accepted had something extra, a talent that the college valued (athletics is the most conspicuous example) or that the applicant had proven to a national or global audience. Actors such as Jodie Foster, Brooke Shields and Emma Watson are among the clearest examples of Ivy Leaguers who had proven their talents before they started college.
It depends. Suppose you are interested in a specific major offered by that school. Your academic strengths and extracurricular achievements, maybe a part-time job, point you towards that program. Your grades in other subjects, while not “all A’s” are at least B’s. If it is clear that you can excel against the best students in that major, then why not try for the reach school and choose that major?
Talk about how you would solve a “big problem” being studied by academics and professionals within that major. Send that essay to a faculty member in that departments and let him or her know that you would like to be one of their students one day. As long as you can improve your grades and test scores, you might fare better in getting into your reach school than you might expect.
If you will need financial aid, you must choose a school where aid will be need-based or, if aid is merit based, it is not tied to test scores. Again, choose the intellectual problem essay and state your case about your interests.
That’s a very difficult question to answer. One way to answer is: you don’t know how you will fare in admissions unless you apply. In this case, it also helps if you have a specific major in mind and your interests point you in that direction. Choosing the “intellectual problem” essay is also a good idea in these circumstances. Your motivation and direction to solve that problem is what will separate you from the other applicants.
The thought is that the college will be desperate for students to enroll in that major. However, admissions officers at the most selective schools are savvy readers. If nothing on the transcript or the essays points an applicant towards, for example, a commitment related to a major in Jewish Studies, that applicant will more likely than not be denied admission. If the applicant has excelled in Hebrew school over 13 years, has tutored seventh graders for Bar and Bat Mitzvah since the eighth grade, directed several religious services with the rabbi at their synagogue and leads the local Jewish youth group, then it is a very different story.
While it is a major achievement to gain admission to a reach school, it is more important that the college you choose be one that is likely to be affordable to your family and committed to helping its students to succeed. The euphoria of getting into a reach school lasts only until a college student walks into their first college class. Then its time for the real work to begin.
Need help on the journey to college? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
Want to know more about me? Check out these podcasts!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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