The college application process has become increasingly competitive in recent years, and it’s only becoming more so with time.

Last year I wrote about why college applications are going up – see Why Is It Getting Harder to Get Into College Today?  – and things haven’t slowed down this year. 

It doesn’t help that amidst news that colleges are getting more competitive, students feel compelled to apply to even more schools to hedge their bets, further driving up the number of applications.

I know this is a stressful time for your teen as they embark on their college application journey with this news over their heads.

Which is why it’s crucial for students to be intentional in their application process through thorough research of schools and making sure these schools align with their strengths and interests.

As an independent college admissions counselor, I’ve developed a process to help my students be more strategic when building their college lists to ensure quality over quantity and increase their chances of getting into their best-fit college.

Here are 3 tips to create a winning college list in today’s competitive college application landscape:

1. Be Strategic: Focus on Fit, Not Fame

First, focus on finding the right fit college for your teen, not about picking the big-name schools.

I know that this is often easier said than done. But It’s essential for students to do their homework and to carefully research potential schools to find those that align with their interests, goals, and learning style. 

By focusing on quality over quantity, they’ll ensure each college on their list is a winner for them and not just there for the sake of prestige.

Sometimes these colleges may not have the most prominent “name-brand” recognition, but it is worthwhile to consider these schools because they offer an excellent education. 

2. Cast a Wide Net: Diversity Is Key

When it comes to application time, I can’t stress enough the importance of selecting a broad range of schools.

Students need to create a list that offers a diverse range of selectivity. We advise our students to apply to 2-3 schools in each of the categories of extreme stretch, stretch, target, and safety schools and continue to keep in mind quality over quantity.

With our students, we also help them research a college’s institutional priorities and how these priorities affect a particular college’s acceptance rate.

For more details on this, check out my post on The Harsh Reality: How Institutional Priorities in College Admissions Affect Applicant Outcomes.

A diversified approach will increase your student’s chances of admission to a desirable college. 

3. Navigate the Waitlist: It’s Not Always the End of the Road

With the surge in college applications, many students may find themselves deferred or wait-listed by their preferred schools. 

Think of the waitlist as another curveball in the college application journey and don’t let being placed on a waitlist be the end of the road.

Encourage your child to craft a compelling waitlist letter, highlighting their achievements, aspirations, and genuine commitment to the school. 

For more advice on how to navigate the waitlist, see Deferred? How to Write a Letter of Continued Interest that Stands Out.

We’re Here to Help  

As the volume of college applications continues to increase year after year, it’s evident that the competitive landscape shows no signs of letting up.

By adopting a strategic and informed approach to the college application process, your student can navigate these challenges with confidence and resilience.

Our team is here to assist your child in this process, guiding them to identify institutions that align with their academic, personal, and career aspirations.

We’ll ensure your teen fully engages in the process with as much data, stats, and knowledge as possible to make informed decisions.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. Together, we can support your child on this journey.

Also, when you’re ready, here are three ways we can help your teen find their best-fit college:

At Stodghill College Consulting, we help each high schooler showcase their unique skills and talents, discover their own brilliant voice, and find a college that will enable them to reach their full potential as young adults.

  • Schedule a free discovery call to discuss how we can create an action plan to help your child keep on top of deadlines and create a college list that is personalized to their strengths and talents.
  • Get college essay writing support from our essay expert, who will guide your teen through brainstorming and revising until they have a polished final product.
  • Hang out in our free Facebook Group for parents where you can ask your burning questions, get answers from myself and the community, and access our extensive video library on college application topics.