Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Safety, Match, Reach: Choosing your Colleges

For many homeschoolers, the terms “Safety, Match, Reach” are not a common concept. And for many families, this type of college selection will not even be necessary. However, if you are a low income family, if your student aspires to attend a highly selective college, or if your student has low or average grades or test scores, then this may be a very important way to evaluate the colleges and universities that your highschooler will consider applying for admission.

I am going to share with you examples of Safety, Match and Reach with three colleges we selected for my daughter. Hopefully, they will illustrate what each type is and how we evaluated each school on her list.

We researched schools that have the major my daughter was interested in, Mechanical Engineering. She had a list of things that she wanted, some were negotiable and some were not. She wanted to attend a small to medium school with less than 10,000 - 15,000 undergraduate students. She wanted to be able to do research, to have options for study abroad programs. She was hoping to minor in Asian studies and learn Mandarin, so having these programs were also important to her. The Engineering program had to ABET certified. Most of these where her “must have” priorities for schools. However, she also had other preferences like having a closed campus, being in a warm climate, and having various other clubs and activities that were of interest to her.

The “Safety” School. One of the schools we selected was Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It offers her major and minor and is a smaller school in a warm climate. It does not have a swim team, which was one of the activities my daughter was hoping to participate in during college. However, it offers other things that were of interest to her and the engineering program is ABET certified. We found that finding schools in warm climates that were small was challenging, so Baylor was a great fit. I classified it as a “Safety” based on how likely she would be accepted to the school. The first thing I looked at is College Boards ( information on Baylor Student’s average SAT and ACT test scores as well as acceptance rates for the university.

A Safety school is a safety if you are likely to get accepted, would like to attend the school and can afford to attend the school.  If any one of these three conditions do not apply, then you do not have a Safety school.  For example, my daughter’s SAT test scores were in the top 25% of all three of Baylor’s SAT scores range for Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. She would therefore be in the top 25% of all applicants applying to Baylor. Baylor for the year 2011 historically accepted 40% of it’s applicant pool according to College Board. When I was researching for my daughter, this number was a bit higher (more like in the 50 or 60% range) but due to the higher number of recent applicants, their current number dropped to 40 percent. MY preference for a match school would be 50% acceptance or higher. Anything lower, and my child is at risk of being rejected. So during my time of evaluation, I calculate that my daughter has a pretty strong possibility of being accepted to Baylor University, because again..the acceptance rate noted on College Board (2010?) was over 50 percent. The last criteria for a true Safety school is “college affordability” and I will address evaluating affordability in future posts. For now, keep in mind that a Safety school is NOT a Safety (or Match or even Reach) if you can not afford to send your child there regardless of if they are accepted. This seems obvious, but really it is a very common problem that people don’t consider.

Finding a Match School. A “Match” means finding a school that will place the applicant in the fifty percentile score range on SAT or ACT scores. All of your child's other requirements and preferences still hold true. So for my daughter, we still need a good engineering program meeting all of her requirements and perhaps a few of her other optional needs. Among her options, we select Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio. It is ranked in the top 40 Nationally. There are a large variety of engineering programs available including Mechanical Engineering, it offers her minor and has a Division III Swim Team. One nice feature is a “open door” policy, meaning that once a student is accepted, they can focus on any major and minor the university offers. She is not being accepted into a specific school but into the university, so should she decide to change from Mechanical Engineering to say for example, Business, she can do that without having to re-apply to the School of Business. A small detail, but one that will allow her flexibility should she need it. Again, not something that we were necessarily looking for, but definitely something that my daughter considered when evaluating the university. Notice that CWRU does not meet one of her preferences, the warm climate! This where you have to prioritize what you are willing to compromise, again, almost every college or university will not meet ALL of your student’s wants but it should meet all of your student’s needs!

Our evaluation of Case Western Reserve University as a Match school.  My daughter’s SAT scores fall in the middle range with CWRU. For example, CWRU’s 50% Math scores range from 650 -740. This means that 50% of students that have been accepted to CWRU in the past had a math score in this range. Students above the 740 score are in the top 25% and students with math scores below 650 are in the low 25%. For your student to have a MATCH, they must fall in the 50% range. My daughter’s score is 690 for math. When I look at Critical Reading and Writing, I see that her scores in those two areas are also within the 50% range. Equally important, when I look at the percentage of students that are accepted to CWRU, I see that the university accepted 51% of all their applicants in 2011. For a Match school, I would like to see around 40% or preferably higher. Remember, even with these evaluations, there is no guarantee that your child will be admitted! So CWRU will be my one of my daughter’s “Match” schools.

The last school to consider is the “Reach” School. Families will vary on if Reach schools are necessary. Why? Because by definition, they are difficult to be accepted to and are a gamble or risk for the applicant. So, if your child may not get accepted into a reach school why bother to apply? Well, if your student is interested in attending an Ivy league school...they are ALL reach schools! Does your child want a challenge to see if he or she can get accepted to a top tier school? If he or she has taken challenging classes, has excellent grades and wants to work with other exceptional students, it will be natural to want to apply to a few of these type schools. There are many schools that are elite (meaning that they accept a small percentage of students from their applicant pool) that are not Ivy. In fact, due to the Common Application ( many schools that were in the past relatively easy to be accepted to are now becoming very difficult to gain admittance. Another reason these schools might be desirable to an applicant is that most (not all) also meet 100% of financial need for low income applicants. My opinion is that students need to challenge themselves. If they don’t submit an application, they will never know if they would have been admitted to that “prestigious” school. However, if your child feels uncomfortable about the high possibility of receiving a rejection, than a Reach school may not be the best option to add to the college application selection.

For those that want the challenge, a Reach school is a school that may be an academic stretch but at the very least IS and admissions stretch. A Reach school still must be a good academic match in regards to the programs they offer. For example, my daughter choose Rice University in Houston, Texas as a Reach school. Her SAT scores were still within the 50% for Rice's admitted students. Example, Rice’s math SAT score range is 680 to 780. My daughter’s math score is again, 690. So she meets the 50% range at the very low end. However, this is where Rice is Reach school for her, because it only accepts 19% of the total number of applicants! The combination of the lower 50% SAT score range and the low acceptance of students makes Rice University a Reach school for her and would for most applicants even if they had perfect SAT or ACT scores AND perfect grades. The lower the number of accepted students, the higher the chance that an applicant will be rejected. However, I have seen homeschooled students accepted to these schools the same as any other type of student.

So here is how it works. Together, you and your college bound highschooler need to select a mixture of Safety, Match and Reach schools. I say together, because being affordable will be the parent's responsibility assuming everything else is being left to the student to decide.  Remember, the college or university must offer a degree that your child is interesting in pursuing, you need to know enough about each school to make an “educated guess” on if your child would/could be accepted, AND they need to be financially affordable should your child get accepted and decide to attend. It might (or might not) surprise you to know that many students select schools, apply and then after they are accepted, really had no interest in attending. Students often apply to schools that don’t offer the major they are interested in studying. Students and parents often select schools that are not affordable. Students and Parents often select schools without considering the cost, or impact of location from home. These are just a few of many things to consider when selecting schools.

You should now have an idea of how to evaluate Safety, Match and Reach schools. The next question should be, “How many?” How many schools do I select in each category? My opinion is that there is really no "one answer fits all." For example, many students of traditional public or private high schools, the school places a limit to how many colleges and universities a student can apply. For other students, it is based on how many applications you can afford or how many applications you want to complete. My suggestion is to make sure that your Reach schools do NOT outnumber the other two types of schools! You should really have a solid number of Safety and Match schools. I can not stress this enough!

You should not have a lot of Reach schools and only one or two Safety and Match schools. I have seen too many students that did not have decent options to consider because they focused too much on the reach school selection and not enough on the other two type of schools. My daughter was rejected to all of her Reach schools with the exception of one, where she was waitlisted. However, she was accepted to ALL of her Safety and Match schools! She selected Case Western Reserve University and will be attending there in the fall of 2012.

I hope this gives you a place to start and evaluate colleges and universities. Even if you decide to just focus on Safety and Match schools, this should give you one way to evaluate the likelihood of your students acceptances. Don’t make the process more stressful or work than you need to but do make informed decisions and try to enjoy the process!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lesson's Learned during the College Admissions Process: SAT's and ACT's

For most students, testing is their least favorite event in the college admissions process. The idea often is to take it once or twice and get it over with. However, if you have a son or daughter that is aiming for schools that are more selective or if you would like to see your child earn a merit award to reduce tuition, than these exams are more important than you think.

A Merit Award is an internal award offered by the College or University. It will reduce the total cost of attendance to that institution. It does not have to be paid back, so it is "free money" for you child to use to reduce tuition. Often, Merit awards are renewable for four years and require a minimum class load and minimum GPA to renew each year.

Consider that most schools accept both the ACT and the SAT as an acceptable entrance exam. Spend some time on the College Board website to see what types of scores are in the median range. These are the minimum goals your child should set to gain acceptance to each college. Reading through Financial Aid and Scholarship programs on the college website will tell you if there is a higher minimum for Merit Awards. Keep in mind that SAT and ACT scores will often determine if your child received any Merit Award.

For Homeschooled applicants, the SAT and ACT are the most important component of the application. I say this because the scores your child received will either confirm the homeschool grades he or she received or deny the validity of the grades. Remember that often homeschooled children are graded by Mom and Dad. So an "A" in Calculus will have little confirmation with a weak Math score on the SAT. Colleges will accept your child's homeschool transcript and grades but you will need to look at each school to see if there are additional requirements as a Homeschool applicant. I found that usually the College would like to see additional subject test taken through the SAT. Two or three additional subject exams was usually either "required" or "recommended". Why would they ask a homeschooler to take these additional exams? Again, they are looking for some standardized verification that the grades you gave your homeschooler are consistent with the type of scores they should be receiving through these standardized exams.

Lesson Learned in Hindsight: My daughter started taking her first exams by the end of her Junior year. This is a common time for many students to start taking these exams. She began with a Subjects test in Literature because she was finishing up a Literature class. The exam went well but when she decided that she was going to apply to college as an Engineering Major we realized that she should have taken Chemistry and Biology as well. She completed her Biology in Sophomore year as since she was now spending her summer preparing for the standard SAT and taking a Pre-calculus summer course, she simply did not have time to study for the exam.

My point is, if your son or daughter is not sure what he would like to major in during his Freshmen or Sophomore years, that's fine. But if they are taking a course in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Literature, why not having them take the SAT subjects exam? You may be planning to have them take the AP exam and that is great. However, keep in mind that anything lower than a 4 score is not very impressive for admissions. Also, AP exams are not required and SAT Subjects tests often are required for admission. Unfortunately, you may need for your child to sit for both the AP and SAT exams. However, keep in mind that only 2 or 3 subject exams will be required for college admissions.

Which SAT Subjects exams should my child take? Well, it really depends on what he or she is interested in studying in college. A child interested in the sciences will need Math 1 or 2 and then at least one or two subjects in science. Whereas, a History and English Major would be better off taking their subject and perhaps Math 1. Again, knowing which colleges your child is interested in applying to or at least seeing some possible college requirements will help you to direct them to the best decisions early in their high school years.

Lastly, Do Christian colleges require all of this extra testing and preparation? The answer is probably "No". They may not require all of the extra SAT Subjects exams. However, consider that your child may change his mind and decide by Senior year that a Christian college may not best meet their needs. Initially, my daughter was planning to apply to Christian colleges. The first college we visited was Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We loved the college and my daughter could see herself attending there and being happy. However, once we researched ABET accredited Engineering programs we soon realized that a Christian college was less likely to meet her needs. Planning ahead early for various choices

will allow your child more options when the time to make decisions is around the corner.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Looking Back A Year Ago....

It was a year ago when my daughter and I began visiting colleges. We were visiting my family in Michigan while she was on Spring break. My daughter, Juliana, was wrapping up her Junior year in High School. At the time, we had no idea of how much work we were in for and my daughter was considering Engineering as a possible field to pursue in college.

Our first stop was Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Being from Southwest Michigan, it was in my back yard growing up. We were considering a Christian education and were welcomed by the school and enjoyed a beautiful day's visit. The following day, we visited my alma mater, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The state school was much larger as well as the Engineering department. The amount of equipment and specialization available to the engineering students at WMU made Calvin facility and options look like a drop of water in a pail. That is when I knew that this was going to be a long process!

As I share my thoughts, I want to start by saying that there is no "one size fit's all" approach to finding the right college for your soon-to-be Senior. My daughter and I debated between a Christian school and secular school for her future college choice. For us, the decision became clear that a college that focused on Engineering with the financial resources for internships and extensive equipment would knock out most Christian schools. She has been in a Christian educational environment since she was in the 5th grade, so I feel comfortable with her Christian education and values. It was then, that we decided to focus on secular colleges and universities.

Everyone's needs vary. The options are overwhelming; Christian Colleges and Universities, Liberal Arts College (LAC's), Public State Schools, Private Universities, Research driven Universities, Trade Schools, On-line Colleges and smaller Community Colleges, just to name a few.

To begin my series, Lesson's Learned during the College Admissions Process: Starting Early.

I begin with the following advise to families,

1) Start Early. We began during the later half of Junior year. Had I really thought more about it, we would have began visiting much sooner. We could have visited during our various travels during my daughters Sophomore year and even Freshman year. Colleges will welcome you and it will give you and your child a chance to really consider what you both want from the college or university that they will select. It can be a lot of fun and if you space it out over a two or even three year period, it will be a lot less stressful when the time comes to make decisions.

2) Make it an official visit. This means don't just drive by and walk the campus. Actually sign up for a tour and stay for the day. Many colleges and universities consider "demonstrated" interest to be an important factor when admitting students. A student who has visited the campus and had time to see the programs offered and perhaps even sat in on a class or spoken to a professor or admissions officer is now no longer just a name on a piece of paper. Have your son or daughter keep in contact with the admissions officer if they are interested in eventually applying. They can ask questions and will have a contact later on when the time comes to submit their application.

3) Know EARLY what the colleges require (especially of homeschoolers) as part of their admissions application. Home schooled students are often required to take additional SAT subject exams. These require extra planning, time and money. A sophomore who completes Chemistry at the end of their high school year should probably take the SAT subject's test in Chemistry at the end of that year. A Junior will need to have their ACT or SAT exams completed by the end of Summer and may not have time to take additional subjects tests, especially if you are also taking AP exams. There is just only so much time to study and take all of these exams. So spacing them out throughout your Sophomore, EARLY Junior, LATE Junior and EARLY Senior year will be helpful in making sure your child gets all of the testing out of the way and will not stress that they didn't have time to complete everything. Additionally, if your child scores lower than expected, it will allow for more time to study and retake the exam before deadlines.

4) Visit different types of colleges and universities. Make a list of questions to ask before each visit. Take photographs (yes, they may all begin to look alike otherwise), take notes of what you liked or didn't like after each visit. Talk to Professors, Students, Admissions Officers, the Financial Aid Office. More people spend time reviewing their investment options for retirement or vacation planning then they do for their children's college decisions. This is a 4 year investment, or even longer. Planning ahead can save a lot of time, money and heart-ache.

5) Don't cross of a school just because you think it might cost too much or may be too difficult to get in. I will discuss later on the process of evaluating schools to be considered (Safety, Match and Reach Schools), we will look at how many a student should consider applying to, how to find schools that offer scholarships and good financial aid, etc. My daughter in finalizing her selection this week. The two schools she has narrowed it down to have a $45,000 and $55,000 annual price tag. No, we won't be paying that! I would have never considered either school if we had first looked at price tag. We focused more on a good fit and progressed to cost as our search narrowed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

William Jewell College

I will be visiting William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri on the February 18th. I look forward to sharing that with you shortly.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Louisville Transcript Workshop Scheduled for Feb 28th!

Preparing Homeschool Transcripts 
State High School Requirements

Location: Louisville, Kentucky
When: February 28th, 2012
Where: St. Matthews Area - Louisville, KY 40207
Registration Fee: $60 Per Family
To Register: Call me at 502-498-4994

This will be a "hands-on" workshop. During our time together we will be working through worksheets, answering questions and either entering your information into the blank Word Document transcript (if you have a wireless laptop) or onto your hardcopy paper transcript. We will answer questions specific to your son or daughters homeschool needs.

The Goal: To is to have everyone's transcript concerns and questions answered, a transcript started and maybe even completed by the end of the session. Once you have registered, you will receive an email from me a few days before the workshop with a list of what to bring to make your time more productive.

At the end of the morning we will also review Kentucky and Indiana State law for High School graduation requirements.

After the workshop....if you have a question or run into a problem you didn't think will be welcome to follow up with me with questions.

Registration space is limited.

Registration is $60 per Family. Feel free to come as a husband and wife team, Mother and Son, or just by your self. We will have a short break midway through for visiting with others.

Please feel free to email me at @ with questions or call me at (502) 498-4994.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Christian Colleges and Universities

Over the next few months, we will begin to take a look at Christian Colleges and Universities. What are some that you would be interested in being covered? What types of questions would you like answered? Send me an email to let me know!

Share my blog :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Leaving the book store with our Vanderbilt t-shirts in hand, I have to wonder what can I do as a parent to help my daughter with her college application. Since she is homeschooled I have to take off my parent hat and replace it with my advisor’s hat. While she is studying for SATs and taking extra summer courses, I am reviewing and cleaning up high school transcripts, noting application dates and deadlines and recalling my conversation with Torrey Morgan, Admissions Counselor for Vanderbilt homeschool applicants.

I was fortunate enough to meet Torrey during our Vanderbilt visit, and I must say if you have not had a chance to visit Vanderbilt or any college your child is interested in, you must make the effort. The visit alone is eye opening for your child and it is a wonderful family experience. It will definitely encourage your child to review colleges on line and to seek marketing material to review as they consider their college choices.

During our visit to Vanderbilt, the day was beautiful and weather pleasant for our campus tour. We checked in a little after 8am in the Student Life Center. There were many information booths available from the different colleges at Vanderbilt, as well as the many clubs and organizations Vanderbilt offers. We were happy to find the religious life organizations included Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Catholic Community, United Methodist and Presbyterian (both U.S.A. and P.C.A.).

They began their opening remarks with Torrey Morgan and Frank Wcisla, Dean of the Ingram Commons. I was happy to hear that each of the freshman common houses has not only a resident advisor but also a professor or dean of the university living with the students. Both professors and deans seem to make themselves very approachable and available to the undergraduate student body.

We headed off for our academic presentation to hear more about the School of Engineering. Burgess Mitchell, Assistant Dean spoke to us about the all concerning numbers for test scores, program structure and their commitment to have EVERY student that they admit succeed at Vanderbilt.

After completing our break out to learn about the Engineering program, we headed back to the Student Life Center to learn more about the Admissions process by John Gains, Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt. During his presentation he shared some interesting things to keep in mind if your child is applying to Vanderbilt. First, a visit to the campus does not make your child a more likely or less likely candidate. Often, colleges prefer a visit as it expresses an interest and so families often assume this is what every college prefers to have a better position for their application.

Secondly, John shared that a Legacy candidate, a son, daughter or grandchild of an alum of Vanderbilt, does not really increase the possibility of your child being accepted to the University. They like to know if the applicant is a Legacy applicant but the child will still be evaluated based on his or her own merit and application.

The concern over college application essays was another area that John addressed. He strongly encouraged students to make it their own as it is one of the few areas in the application where each student can personalize their application. He suggested to not use cliche topics such as discussing about your family or telling about your greatest moment in sports. Instead he encouraged applicants to become familiar with the colleges they are applying to and to discuss why they would make a good fit within that university, yet keep it personal and not to make it something that they thought the admissions counselor just wanted the hear. He encouraged everyone to take a look at the Common Application on line and to look at the options available for essays and to begin preparing them over the summer.

Once we began our walking tour of the campus the fun really began. The dorm room and free lunch at the Ingram Commons dining center were the highlights with my daughter and her friend who was visiting Vanderbilt with us. The dorm room was one of the newer building of the ten that house all of the freshman. The room was bright with large windows and it is the nicest dorm room we have seen during any of our college campus visits. I asked our guide about wireless internet and was told that most of the campus had wireless availability. She shared with us that there are eight libraries on campus and we visited one of them alone later that afternoon.

The grounds of the campus are beautiful although there is a lot of summer construction going on. The campus itself is close to downtown Nashville, however it is nicely situated so that students do not need to cross major traffic roads to get from one build to another for classes or to dorm rooms. I guess you could refer to it as a “campus bubble” but I prefer that for both safety and aesthetics. In regards to safety, there are emergency posts throughout the entire campus and we were told that if activated that police would arrive within 90 seconds of the alarm. They also have a late night and early morning shuttle service for students throughout the campus. This is for students who are do not wish to walk alone late at night or in the early morning hours and need to get from one part of campus to another. The campus is easy to walk throughout the day hours and we saw student enjoying games on the lawns as well as lectures in the classrooms.

During lunch, Torrey Morgan joined us at our table and I had a list of questions all prepared for her. Vanderbilt has an assigned Admissions Counselor for each state and depending where your child lives will determine which counselor is assigned. The only exception to that is for homeschooled applicants, regardless of your state of residency there is one admissions counselor, Torrey.

I began by asking Torrey her suggestions for recommendations. Vanderbilt’s requests two teachers and one guidance counselor recommendation be submitted with the application. This posses a problem for many homeschool families who are both teacher and guidance counselor. She suggested searching for outside sources who may teach your child, a music teacher, athletic coach; anyone who could address how your child works in an instructional setting. Of course if you have a homeschool group or co-op then you should have other sources, even if it is a community college instructor or an online teacher. These would all be potential sources. In our case, we have teachers but I would have been the only individual assigned as a guidance counselor, so we will use her coach as a replacement for me.

Next, I asked Torrey about the dreaded high school transcript. She had a lot to say that confirmed my opinion on the importance of transcripts. She suggested noting who taught the class, listing the text books used and giving a clear course description. Torrey stated that the transcript for home schoolers is unique and one of the most important components of the application for them. (No pressure for us parents!) She also mentioned that a poor transcript means she has to add addition weight in evaluating SAT or ACT scores. Where as a complete and thorough transcript will allow homeschooled applicants to be evaluated more like their traditional schooled peers, meaning the test scores are only one of many important components to the application.

I think one of the most important pieces of advise Torrey gave me was to encourage all applicants to apply early. She suggested that a rushed application to meet a deadline was always apparent. So start your application early! Don’t wait to the last minute. Become familiar with the Common Application that Vanderbilt, and so many other schools for that matter, use for their application process. She also confirmed that the number of home school applicants is increasing each year and that they are being admitted to Vanderbilt, although she could not address how they performed as a homeschool student transitioning to college, as she does not evaluate performance of admitted students. Torrey mentioned to me she is available if anyone ever has any questions and to feel free to contact her. I should mention however, that she and her husband are expecting their first child and so she will be on maternity leave come this fall when most 2012 Seniors will be submitting their applications and she will be temporarily replaced.

We wrapped up our visit at Vanderbilt with a Student Panel question and answer time. Then visited a few places on campus on our own which of course included the book store. My daughter like so many students was dreaming of if she might be one of the few selected and if she would be hanging black and gold colors on her bedroom wall next spring. If you have any suggestions as to how I might make our college visits more informative and beneficial to you and your family, feel free to email me at with your suggestions.


Melissa Meader