Watch Our College Admissions Q & A With UniversityParent

Our team answers questions about navigating the college application process.

We love it when we get the chance to share our team’s college admissions knowledge with parents.

So naturally, we jumped at the opportunity to be part of a live college admissions convo hosted by our friends at UniversityParent last week!

They fielded some amazing questions from around the web, all asked by parents who have children who are either:

  • getting ready to start the college application process
  • or are already in the midst of the college application process

Our team took a bunch of the questions and provided the parents the best answers we could about school selection, tuition and the entire process overall. We had a blast and loved the chance to share some great info with everyone who attended.

Since we talked through a ton of awesome questions we chose a few of the most popular to summarize below. We figure that since so many other parents are curious about these things, you might be too!

So check out the video to watch the full convo featuring our very own:

Feel free to leave comments and let us know what you think. Enjoy!


“My son is having a hard time narrowing his list- how many schools should he apply to, and what should the range look like (types of institutions, selectivity, etc.)?”

10-12 is the right number of colleges to apply to for most students. The list of schools a student is going to apply to should consist of three types: reach, target and safety. Students should apply to 3-4 reach schools, 4-5 target schools and 3-4 safety schools to ensure they’re equipped with lots of options when the time comes to make a choice.

The schools on this list should be selected based on the strength of a student’s individual profile, including GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, etc. After that, it comes down researching each school to find out what which the student finds most appealing.

In regard to actually CHOOSING a school, Admissionado advocates that students should “got to the best school they can get into.” That means, if a student gets accepted into John Hopkins and the University of Iowa, s/he should, without a doubt, go to John Hopkins. It’s also important not to give the idea of a student’s “fit” at a certain school too much weight, as most 16-18 year olds don’t REALLY know what they want to do with their lives. The most important thing is that they set themselves up with the opportunity to attend the best school possible and be around the brightest community possible.


“It’s almost November! What can my son do in the next two months to strengthen his applications?”


At this point, there isn’t much time to make any large strides in terms of GPA and extracurricular activities so students should be focused primarily on their application essays. Essays are a student’s chance to highlight a personal quality, major accomplishment, or other element that may otherwise have been hidden in their application.

It’s also important to spend extra time here because essay writing is not something that comes naturally for many high school students. The emotional, memoir-style approach that is needed is very different than the academic writing drills most students are taught.

Students can also improve the scores of their standardized tests during this time by taking the November and December SAT or ACT (if needed).

Additional areas of focus include letters of recommendation (LORs) and and interview prep.


“Is it true that the best state colleges actually cost the same as Ivy League, private schools? Or do the highest-ranked colleges cost the most?”


Though the highest ranked colleges oftentimes do cost the most money, they also happen to be most generous with grant money. Furthermore, if a student is attending a college out of state, a public university can be just as expensive as a super elite private university with aid that’s harder to come by. For example, the University of Michigan clocked in this year at over $55,000 for out of state students, while Brown university is just under $50,000.

This is why the “it’s too expensive” argument is rarely a good rationale for not applying to certain schools, especially in the top 50. At Harvard, any student whose family makes $65,000 or less per year goes for free, which comprises over 20% of the school’s undergraduate population. Families with incomes between $65 and $150,000 contribute 0-10% of their income, while families with incomes above $150,000 pay proportionally more than 10%, based on their individual circumstances. Over 70% of students receive aid, mostly in the form of need-based grants.

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth and Amherst are truly need-blind for all applicants including international, while 39 schools are need-blind for U.S. applicants (not including international students) including Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Overall, in state tuition and admission are cheaper. Not counting financial aid awards, the average annual costs for students are:

  • Private Colleges: $31,231
  • Public Universities (out-of-state) $22,958
  • Public Universities (In-State) $9,139

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If you found this helpful, check out this post about helping your children choose the best extracurriculars, or this post about making a game plan to prepare for the upcoming FAFSA changes.

Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!

  • Thank you for this informative session. I have to disagree with Jon’s advice to always attend “the best school you get into.” Perhaps if the choice is between Princeton or Penn State the answer might be obvious. The University of Iowa for a talented, aspiring writer may be a better choice than Johns Hopkins. I recently read a survey from students who attended Ivy league schools. The questions was what advice would you give seniors applying to colleges. The message was clear: Don’t choose your school on brand name alone. Sometimes, discerning what is the better college is not always clear cut. I’ve even heard an college admissions expert advise attending the school where the student can be at the top of the class. Finally, a student has to be sure she can handle the level of competition and stress found at highly-selective schools.

    • Admissionado


      Thanks so much for the thoughtful note. We know that our advice to “Go to the best school you can get into” runs contrary to much of the conventional advice out there. And we’re glad that you quoted the survey from Ivy League kids—since all of our mentors graduated from elite and Ivy League schools, all of our guidance, you might say, could be considered an Ivy League survey as well. 🙂

      But we did want to raise a few concerns with one of the snippets of advice that you allude to. (And we understand that the opinions expressed are not your own, but those of others that you found online and were sharing.) Actually the advice, to “attend a school where the student is at the top of the class,” and where “stress may be lower” plays directly into some myths out there. Thanks for giving us a chance to address those myths.

      Many may assume that an Ivy League course load is automatically, extremely heavy…this is not always the case. Actually, as an Ivy League graduate will tell you, some schools have elite reputations, but the work load can be quite light. And on the other hand, some schools that do not have the elite reputation may actually require far MORE actual work than an Ivy might. So it is important that folks don’t fall into the trap that you have laid out: don’t assume that work is automatically easier at a “less prestigious” school.

      Also, we might even give the opposite guidance; perhaps a student would be better-served at a school where he does find himself/herself closer to the bottom-half of the class. After all, no matter what his/her grades are at graduation, all graduates from the school will receive the same impressive pedigree. This is true regardless of how hard-working, or how well-prepared the student felt along the way.

      Another, simpler way to express this idea: if you want to become a better tennis player, the worst thing you can do is to play with folks who are at your level, or lower. Instead, challenge yourself by surrounding yourself with stronger players. Not only will they raise your game, but once you’ve finished your training you can tell others that you have trained with the best. It is win-win situation.

      Again thanks so much for the note, and for allowing us to address (and debunk!) some of the myths out there.

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