I don't have any safeties. Help me?

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: I don't have any safeties. Help me?
By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:10 pm: Edit

I tried about 14 thousand times to post this in the chances section, but it wouldn't let me... So I thought that the parents would be a good place to get some help...

Okay, a basic summary of my stats:

SAT: 1450 (800 V, 650 M)
SAT II: Literature - 740 (Writing, Bio E, and one other to be taken in October)
GPA: Something like a 4.0, my school uses percentages. (I think I have ~97).
Rank: 9/121 = Top 10%
Race/Sex: White Male
More detailed information at http://prstats.com/2009/display.php?user=takeheart

So, the schools I'm looking at are (in vague order of preference):
Swarthmore, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Haverford, Vassar.

I know that I don't have any safeties, but I'm not applying to any. Vassar is the safest school on my list, and I cannot find any schools that are safer than Vassar that have my major (comparative literature) and that I like. (Actually, even Vassar doesn't have my major, but if I end up there, I'll live.) I'm applying EA to Yale because I can't commit to ED without seeing the financial aid. I need a lot.

Does anyone have any suggestions/evaluations? I'd like a smaller school, and I generally like LACs more than Universities. Swarthmore is my strong first choice and I would ED if I didn't have to worry about money.


By Ndbisme5 (Ndbisme5) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:14 pm: Edit

Wake Forest, UNC, etc. Check out collegeboard.com and knock a hundred points of your SAT score to find a "match."

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:18 pm: Edit

Would Wake Forest be a match do you think? And isn't UNC a HUGE state school?

By Mini (Mini) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:22 pm: Edit

How 'bout posting this in the College Selection area?

By Barrons (Barrons) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:33 pm: Edit

UNC has 14,000 UGs so it is not huge but not small either. To have any depth in comp lit you will probably need a larger school except for a few of the most elite.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:34 pm: Edit

Haha, Mini, I didn't even think of that. Originally, this started out as a post asking if I would get into any of the schools on my list, and then I decided to ask for suggestions, too... So it slipped my mind to post it there. Thanks for the idea.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 07:37 pm: Edit

Well, 14,000 to me is pretty huge to me, since my top choice is about 1500 students.

By Cheers (Cheers) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 09:36 pm: Edit

Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth. That's a lot of Reaches.

Match/Safety: Kenyon, Grinnel, Skidmore, Oberlin

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 11:11 pm: Edit

I know that my list is very top heavy because not very many schoools have Comparative Literature majors. Oberlin will definitely be tacked on to my list, since it has my major. Also, Trinity College (CT) will probably be added. Does anyone have any opinions about these two schools?

By Cheers (Cheers) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 11:33 pm: Edit

Found this list

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 11:44 pm: Edit

Thanks a lot for that link, Cheers. It had some schools that I hadn't thought of before, like Brown. Do you happen to know anything about Brown?

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 12:03 am: Edit

Macalester, Carleton, Reed, Union

I'd be careful about looking for specific "comparative literature" majors. First, you may well change your mind; second, the field is often considered as a subset of Literature or English.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 12:05 am: Edit

I think Trinity can be considered a safety for you. Another good safety with a comp lit major would be Hobart & William Smith.Oberlin is a match/safety. Kenyon would be a decent match/safety as well. Also check out Skidmore and Connecticut college - I am not sure if they have comp lit but think so. I think you should be fine with just two of these schools on your list. Good luck!

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 12:14 am: Edit

Yes, I know that I might change my mind, Dmd77, but I'd rather not have my mind changed for me by attending a school that doesn't have what I feel most strongly about right now.

Carolyn, thanks for the suggestions, I'll check out those schools.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 12:45 am: Edit


It is so hard to evaluate "stats" from a distance because I simply don't know your high school and where students ranked at the 10% mark get accepted. However, on the surface, I think your list is way too top heavy. On the plus side, first generation college helps and you've got a couple of strong interests in drama and forensics.

I see Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as being unrealistic reaches. Apply if you want, but I would build a list on the assumption that those aren't going to happen.

Swarthmore is a pretty hefty reach with your class rank. Haverford is a reach. Vassar may be a match, but is by no means a "safety".

My other advice would be to focus less on what you think you might major in after the 11th grade. Chances are that this will change three or four times before you declare a major three years from now.

Focus on a broader range of schools. If you like small liberal arts colleges, there are dozens and dozens of good ones.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 01:16 am: Edit


Yes, I am well aware that my list is top heavy, and I intend to keep it that way. Everyone continues to tell me that I should look beyond schools that have comp lit majors, but that's like recommending schools that don't have engineering for someone who wants to study engineering. What if my mind DOESN'T change and I'm stuck at a school that doesn't have my major? That's not a good position to be in.

As for where people in the top 10% go, well, they go no where. They are all fairly unambitious because our guidance dept. likes to push small nearby catholic colleges, and they are happy to settle, especially since very few of them crack 1200 on the SAT. With that being said, I have the highest SAT score in quite some time at my school, and all of my teachers acknowledge that I am one of the best students to come through the school in the last decade or so.

With all that being said, I'm not going to throw in an application to a school that I don't want to go to since my family can't afford to do that. I sincerely want to go to every school on my list and don't see the point in settling. Yes, there are dozens and dozens of good LACs, but I wouldn't be happy at most of them. It seems that the ones I would be happiest at are at the top. I have confidence that I will get into Haverford (which is nice and small, has my major, and a very friendly atmosphere) because the three students we have sent there in the past years have been in my exact position.

By Cheers (Cheers) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 01:23 am: Edit

See if you can push your SAT score up even higher?? Did you memorize those 250 vocab words? A +1500 might increase your chances at your reaches.

For reviews of Brown, read The 351 Best Colleges in America". Lots of CC parents find it too negative, but students tell me it's spot on.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 01:28 am: Edit

Well, I don't need to memorize the 250 vocab words, since I have an 800 V, but I've been doing some work on my math skills this summer, and will probably retake the SAT in November. I think that I might be able to push my math up ~50 points. Usually, I find that I ended up making stupid mistakes all over the place.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 02:36 am: Edit


I understand your feelings.

I will say that I took a brutally honest approach with my daughter. Not to be mean in anyway, but to make sure that her college list had four solid options where her chances of admission were very solid (75th percentile applicant).

Here's my concern with your college list: class rank is probably the single biggest academic criteria that the top colleges look at. I could be way off base.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 02:58 am: Edit

Interesteddad, I understand that you're not trying to be mean in any way, and I think that I would give myself the same advice if I were you. However, I guess since I know that I am taking the most brutal courseload in the history of my school (which my counselor should mention in his rec) and that my rank will most likely put me in the top 5% at the end of the first quarter because all of my classes will be given the heaviest weight possible (my school doesn't have weighted averages, but we have weighted class ranks), I'm giving myself a little more leeway. I understand that class rank is very important and all, too, but with a 97% unweighted average putting you 9th, I think that the adcoms might assume that very little separates the top students (but I could be off base, too). Your advice is on par with what I would give to someone in my position, I just don't want to count myself out yet.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 03:57 am: Edit

I wouldn't count yourself out at some of the schools you mentioned.

I just believe in being realistic. Swarthmore's median SATs are 1450. Half of the incoming freshmen are above that. 50% of the incoming freshmen were in the top 2% of their high school class. 92% were in the top 10% of their class. And remember that a good number of these were from super-competive prep schools where top 10% is really saying something.

My daughter had a friend with a college list like yours. For six months, she talked to him about being realistic with the middle and bottom of his list. He never budged and got rejected by every school he applied to. She never could figure out what he was up to; the only thing she could figure is that it was just a game and he had planned to go to a safety school in Boston.

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 10:41 am: Edit

Takeheart: I'm not saying you shouldn't look at schools with comp lit majors. I'm saying you should look carefully at the actual offerings of schools that don't have comp lit majors, as it may be offered as a subspeciality of English, for example. For example, Reed doesn't not offer a "comp lit" major, but they do offer a variety of lit major options (http://web.reed.edu/apply/lit_lan_div.html) in a program where students can choose a topic for their senior thesis. Being more flexible in this fashion would open up your options.

I do understand that a love of literature and a desire to study it will indubitably lead you in the direction of a "wordy" major. But my D--who went to college *sure* she would major in creative writing--is now considering modern literature or maybe French or maybe linguistics, as a result of her freshman-year distribution courses. As a result, it is my opinion (which you are welcome to ignore, but you did ask for advice) that you should be looking at the whole school.

You might also look at Bard for a safety/match school. They have a program during November where you can visit, interview, and have a decision on the spot, with no commitment on your part until May 1. If you got in that way, you could then focus on your other schools, with a "safety" in the bag. And Bard has much of what you seem to be looking for.

By Demingy (Demingy) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 11:23 am: Edit

Takeheart- I second what Dmd77 (and a few others have said). You don't have to rule out a school just because it doesn't have a "comp lit" major. If you look carefully at a lot of schools you'll see that they mention having an option of speaking with your advisor to personalize your major. You could major in literature but still have a comp lit focus.

I'm interested in genetics, but it is highly unlikely that I will major in genetics for my undergrad. It has nothing to do with the fact that I think I'll change my mind, but more with the fact that I didn't want to limit my options any more than they already are. There are some very good schools on my list that I wouldn't have on there if I insisted on having a "genetics" degree. That is what grad school is for.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 11:47 am: Edit


I second as well what Dmd said. Comp lit tends to be a graduate field. You can probably achieve the same results by taking courses in related fields: English, Romance languages and literature, Slavic, even Chinese literature. You may want to see if courses are offered in a growing field, post colonial literature. That would open up more possibilities for you and allow you to consider schools that would be safeties. Look into Skidmore and Sarah Lawrence. I think Reed would also be a good fit, although it is not reall a safety.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 01:53 pm: Edit

Takeheart: One more suggestion: Wheaton College in Mass. They have an excellent English department and allow you to create your own concentration within the English major. You might ask if you would be able to do your concentration in comp lit (it certainly sounds that way from the way they describe some sample concentrations).

Wheaton is a nice, well-rounded LAC with excellent academics near Boston. It would be a good safety for you, especially because they are trying to boost their male student population closer to 50/50. www.wheatoncollege.edu

By Jjsmom (Jjsmom) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 03:07 pm: Edit

Takeheart: Ditto regarding Comp lit major to the posts above.

Please forgive me if I'm misinterpreting the tone of your posts, but it sounds as if you need reassurance that you will get accepted into one of your listed schools and that searching for a match or safety is simply an exercise because you've been told you must. You say you don't want to "settle."

However, every single school you have listed, including Haverford and Vassar, are reaches. Haverford and Vassar have been known to accept/reject kids for reasons that simply don't make sense by the numbers. Demonstrated interest may play a part in that. Yes, Haverford and Vassar are more likely to accept you than Swarthmore, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth. But here's the truth: Based upon your scores/GPA/Class rank/ECs, Haverford and Vassar are still reaches, and Swarthmore, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth are uber-reaches.

You compare yourself to kids at your own school, and I commend you for your accomplishments. However, when a college is reading your application, you are being compared to their other applicants only, not kids at your school. In that sense, your scores/GPA/ECs may be average to sub-average to the ivies and top ranked LACs.

There is nothing except for a $60 application fee keeping you from applying from these creme de la creme schools and seeing how you fare on April 1st. I hope this doesn't sound too harsh but if you were my child I would be brutally honest and suggest you come back down to earth and find some real matches and safeties that you could live with. That's not settling. That's reality.

Good luck!

By Thumper1 (Thumper1) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 04:19 pm: Edit

I also encourage you to get some safeties that really ARE safeties onto your list. I'd like to add that Brown is NOT a safety. We have a friend who applied to Brown, Princeton, Cornell and an out of state University. He was val, had similar SAT scores to yours, excellent EC's, community service...you name it!! He was rejected outright at all three Ivies. His GC really led him to believe that he would be accepted to at least one of these schools. It turns out that he became happy with the state U (after a very upsetting month of April his senior year). He would have been a TOP candidate and likely a merit scholarship recipient at any number of schools that were NOT on his list. He had wanted an LAC (otherwise why would he have applied to three Ivies) and in my opinion should have broadened his search despite his outstanding credentials. He too came from a school where precious few students held his credentials.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 04:27 pm: Edit

I want to thank everyone for their suggestions and ideas. I know that all of you are trying to be helpful and make sure that I'm not left with nothing come April.

I completely understand that Princeton, Yale, and Harvard are almost impossibilites, and they're being treated that way. The only reason that I'm "wasting" my early app on Yale is because it's EA instead of ED. Applications to those three (if I even end up applying to all of them) will be dropped in the mail and completely forgotten about.

Swarthmore and Dartmouth are my "normal reaches" I guess you could say. What I mean by that is if I were a sane person, those would be the top of the list and would be dropped in the mailbox and forgotten. I really think that my application to Swarthmore will make me look like a Swarthmore student and show just how much I want to go. Dartmouth, well, I don't know. I don't know if I'm the "typical" Dartmouth student, but I like Dartmouth too much not to try.

Haverford and Vassar I think of as matches, despite what anyone what tell me. People in my position or worse have been accepted to Haverford (I think we have a 100% acceptance rate there), and I understand that I will be compared to students in the applicant pool and not alumni of my high school, where people like you from your high school have gone can be a good indicator of what may happen to you. As for Vassar, my SAT is almost 100 points above the average of the class of '08 (1359 - 1450) and as a male, I'm definitely of the gender that Vassar would like to have more of. Also, I have a something very different planned for the "My Space" part of the Vassar application.

I'm also applying to Carleton (no app fee, and if I make it to national merit finalist -- have my fingers crossed on that one -- I could receive some money). I forgot to mention Williams in my original post, but they'll be getting an app, too. I know that both of these are reaches, and are making my list increasingly top heavy, but oh well. I feel that someone will see something they like in my application out of all the schools I apply to (which right now seems astronomical, but I'm going to request fee waivers to cut down costs).

Oh, and I'm applying to Oberlin as well. I had that originally on my list but it got taken off because the paper they sent me with a list of their majors didn't include comp lit, but their website says otherwise.

Dmd77, do have any further information about the Bard November acceptance thing? Do you know if it counts as an early application?

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 05:31 pm: Edit


You are making a common mistake in evaluating the median SAT scores for colleges. In my opinion, a "match" for a white or Asian applicant is an SAT score at the 75th percentile for the school -- exactly where you fall at Vassar. Notice, that I said "match", NOT safety.

My daughter had Vassar on her list. She had the same SATs as you, was ranked 2nd in her high school class, had everything they look for in a transcript (six years of language, all the sciences, full complement of math, etc.), and had a very strong extracurricular. I felt that she was a solid match for Vassar, but I never felt that she was a shoe-in by any means.

She had five much more solid matches (Emory, Davidson, Vandy, W&M, and Wake Forest) and a true safety (Dickenson) on her list.

I don't know how to be more direct: your list is not logical. Apply to a couple of reaches if you like, but don't make your whole list reaches.

I'm even more worried because you indicate that you need significant financial aid. As a general rule, you will maximize your financial aid at colleges that are a step or two down from your reach level.

Again, not trying to burst your bubble. You have an outside shot at some of the school on your list. But, you really need to view those schools as reaches.

By Lefthandofdog (Lefthandofdog) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 05:33 pm: Edit

Takeheart - two things to add to the discussion. If you are concerned with the type of financial aid you'll be awarded, you really should look into schools that offer merit aid. Usually that means schools where your stats would be considered high (they want to attract you to their school, so they're willing to entice you with money above and beyond what you'd receive under a need-based system). Also keep in mind that only 40 or so schools in the country are need-blind and guarantee to meet demonstrated need (as determined by FAFSA and Profile). You can do one of the financial aid calculators to get an idea of what your financial aid package might be (you'll need to get your parents' last tax return to fill it out). The other thing is this: as other poster's have pointed out, your list is top-heavy with reaches; if you continue your good work (and you have done well) by no means are you guaranteed a spot at any of those schools. What happens if you get mono, a girlfriend, a teacher who takes a disliking to you, ... any number of things could come up that will derail your efforts and change the landscape come April. Take it from the parents - we hate to see kids disappointed, and the way to ensure that you have options in April is to start out with a range of schools, all of which you'd be happy to attend.

By Dadx (Dadx) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 05:41 pm: Edit

Retake the SATs and spend a little time practicing for the math section. YOu ought to be able to hit your PSAT equivalent, or even a 750. That would make a BIG difference in how you look to schools.

Xiggis post of months ago that "......(paraphrased) schools might slightly discount someone for too many sittings, but will NEVER add to anyones score simply because they only took it once" was gospel, IMO.

Raise your math score.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 06:00 pm: Edit

Interesteddad, I said that I thought Vassar was a match. However, as a male, Vassar will probably look more kindly on me than they would a female.

As for financial aid, I'm not concerned too much. My mother and I did a few fin aid calculators, and we always found the results to be in our means. I'm only afraid that if I apply early decision I might get a lesser package and will be locked in. If there were a way to guarantee that I receive affordable financial aid from Swat, I would apply early.

Anyway, as for my list being overly top-heavy, I can almost guarantee that I will be in much better shape by app time (top 5%, 1500+ SAT), and that will certainly make some of them more realistic.

So, right now, my list looks like this:

Harvard, Yale, Princeton -- Yale early because it's my favorite EA school. Harvard and Princeton may or may not be applied to. These are more for fun than anything else.

Swarthmore, Williams, Dartmouth, Carleton -- The real reaches, in rough order of preference. The first three have a comp lit major, Carleton does not. But Carleton has no app fee, so I can't justify not applying.

Haverford, Vassar -- My matches. I think that I would manage to get into at least one of these two.

Kenyon, Bard, maybe Trinity (CT) - Kenyon has no app fee. Bard has the Immediate Decision plan that I like (I would find out if I had an acceptance in early November, and then could proceed to eliminate schools that were on my list for the reasons of safety). Trinity is a safer bet than most, and it has a comp lit major.

That's 12 schools, but two have no app fee, three I may or may not apply to, and I'm also pretty sure that I can get fee waivers. So, I think that I'll get into AT LEAST one of these schools. I've been very lucky with applications for things in the past.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 06:44 pm: Edit

A little different view and a ray of hope: my son, with very similar profile, was waitlisted at the HYP he applied to but accepted to all the other ivies and elites, including Swarthmore -- where he never had an interview because we got our act together too late. We were stunned. He had done college course work and had very impressive supplemental materials which were included. IMHO the app was very well put together to highlight his strong points and he did come across as an extemely unusual applicant. Interesteddad has great posts in the archives about application packaging. Please consider Holy Cross; they have some amazing merit money for the students they really want. Also-- for comp lit-- again IMHO you need to be doing languages during undergrad and don't need an actual comp lit dept. Talk to some people in the field if you can re. appropriate undergrad preparation.

By Momofthree (Momofthree) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 07:08 pm: Edit

Another little ray of hope: our experience of financial aid at Swarthmore was excellent, and actually improved over the four years, when we were able to show greater need due to medical expenses.
DD will have loans to pay off, but less than half of one year's tuition. Not a bad deal.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 07:17 pm: Edit

Emptynester: that's the results that I'm hoping for... I bet your son had something majorly amazing though... which is something I definitely don't have.

Momofthree: I've heard that Swat's fin aid is very generous, and I'm hoping I get to experience that generosity first hand...

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 07:40 pm: Edit

Takeheart-- it is in the packaging imho. you have college course work (presumably have done well?) that ties into your area of interest-- somehow it does. you mention a special something for the V app. IMHO it needs to tie with your intended major/ highlighting your special interest and making the adcoms say, "well of course his SAT M doesn't really matter does it? that's not his thing." Can you find some college knowledgeable adult to review your application and esp supplemental materials? one of your college profs? It can be a fine line to present something that comes across as impressive without putting people off. My son definitely needed another set of eyes. He had a college academic research paper with very impressive comments, but was quite pedantic, and a piece of creative writing that presented him more as a *regular kid*.I don't think I have responded to another student post but your situation is so familiar to me LOL. Very best of luck and really it won't matter that much where you end up going but what use you make of the resources there. You may want to start looking at professor profiles at lesser *name* schools, where you may actually get more attention and more freedom to pursue your interests thru tutorials, etc.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 08:14 pm: Edit

Important! my son had at least 4 schools on his list where his stats were over the top 75%-- true safeties and that is really important imho. echoing momofthree: Swat aid was good (son didn't go there boo hoo) fwiw Vassar was about the worst but they just may not have wanted him that badly. More schools = more chances to compare fa and merit awards

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 09:00 pm: Edit

Emptynester, I'm curious... What schools did your son use as safeties?

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 09:20 pm: Edit

Bard: http://www.bard.edu/admission/applying/#idp talks about the immediate decision plan. It seems to be a regular admission, not an early decision thing. Call them and ask them.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 10:34 pm: Edit

state univ, Holy Cross, St. Joseph, Villanova, Tulane(only a safety because of geographic diversity). All offered merit awards; some full tuition. I should make clear he isn't interested in comp lit. And he wanted a research university with grad program which is where he ended up. Something to consider is that when a school offers you a major merit award to attend, they are usually willing do lots of extras for you. If they have profs you want to study with and who will be available to you because there isn't a grad program taking up their time-- it may be a really good option if you don't get into what you now envision as your dream school.. and maybe a really good option even if you do!

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 11:01 pm: Edit

I figured that your son wasn't interested in comp lit, I was just curious what schools he used as safeties. In the safety department, I've decided to add Oxford College of Emory, which would then give me a guaranteed transfer into into Emory. And Davidson looks very nice right now, too. I never really looked into southern schools before, so it was a nice surprise to see that I liked those two.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 11:52 pm: Edit

I strongly suggest that you add to your list a safety that you definitely know that you can afford. Depending on your state, this might be your flagship public university or an in-state university that is a notch below.

If you need fee waivers to apply to colleges, that will probably hurt you with the many colleges that take financial need into consideration for admissions. Thus, it may be even more difficult for you to get admissions than you are imagining.

As for the financial aid calculators, keep in mind that even if they are accurate in terms of your total packages, the packages you're offered may include more loans than you'd be comfortable carrying.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:04 am: Edit

The more I think about it, the more I just want to apply to Swarthmore ED and not worry about any of this. Is financial aid ever really a rather significant amount less if you apply ED? Do you think that Swarthmore would be open to negotiations if my family didn't think that we could handle the price? My EFC is somewhere around 3000 (most of which is self-help stuff, summer and on-campus jobs) based on all the calculators we've done. Would Swat crush me under loans do you think? I know that they have a rather large endowment, so I would hope not, but you never know... Any ideas?

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:13 am: Edit

Since it's clear that financial aid is a consideration for you, it would be a major mistake to apply ED.

You need to be able to compare offers, including financial aid offers, which can vary widely. A big way that they vary in schools guaranteeing to meet 100% of families' documented financial need is how much in terms of loans and work study ythe student will have to contribute.

I have seen students posting on boards who said that they were expected to take out up to $20 k a year in loans.

You are walking into trouble if you apply ED because if accepted you'll be totally at Swarthmore's mercy. While colleges say that one can back out of ED for monetary reasons, one's GC isn't likely to work as hard for you if you back out of ED after your GC has gone to bat for you.

I can not emphasize more that despite your wishing to get the admissions process over with quickly, it would be a mistake to apply ED. Please open your mind to financial considerations are major for you, and no matter what the on-line calculation sites say you'll get, you won't know until you get that info much later in the year.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:20 am: Edit

I was afraid that was what I would hear. I wouldn't be considering ED if Swat wasn't such a clear first choice. Do you think that if I included a letter with my application explaining that Swat is my first choice but I can't make a commitment to pay the price with a guilt free conscience, knowing that the pricetag may drive my family into hardship, that Swat may give me a little boost for this demonstrated interest. Granted, it's not an early application, but it's the best that I can do in my situation I guess.

By Par72 (Par72) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:29 am: Edit

Agree, might want to look at Holy Cross.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:43 am: Edit

No, what you are thinking of doing is not at all a good idea for ED. When a student applies ED, they are saying that if accepted, they will definitely go there.

Please open your mind to other possibilities -- particularly colleges where you know that you can get an, and you know that you can afford. There are many colleges in this country. Look closer to add to your lists.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:43 am: Edit

Swarthmore is not going to give you less financial aid as an ED applicant than as an RD applicant. They will work with you either way.


As an ED applicant, you give up the ability to comparison shop. Let me use a car shopping analogy. If you decide up front that you will only shop for a brand new Honda Accord, then you are at the mercy of whatever deal you can find at Honda dealer. But, if money is really important, then you don't lock into one brand or model and you keep a used car as an option. You shop hard for price and value and maybe you find a car that is functionally equivalent to the brand new Accord for half the price.

Keep in mind that, while Swat has excellent need-based financial aid, they don't do merit aid period. They are not going to BID on you because you would raise their average SAT scores. There are many schools that WOULD bid on you. For example, you might be able to get a very attractive merit aid package at a place like Dickenson because they don't get very many 1450 SAT applicants.

Maximizing your college's prestige and maximizing financial aid are TWO VERY DIFFERENT STATEGIES! They require completely different college lists.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:49 am: Edit

Northstarmom, I think you may have misunderstood because I wasn't as clear as I should have been. I mean that I would include that letter with my RD app so that I could explain why I didn't ED even though Swat is my first choice.

Anyway, I'm not particularly interested in maximizing either prestige or fin aid. I'm looking to maximize fit and find a price tag that I can afford. I don't need to go to college for free.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 01:32 am: Edit


Actions speak louder than letters when trying to communicate your serious interest to a college.

Have you picked out a date for an overnight visit to Swat? Communicated to any department chairs on Campus? Set up meetings with department chairs? Decided what classes you want to sit in on during your overnight visit? E-mailed the professors, asking them if sitting in on those classes is appropriate?

Living in Pennsylvania, you can easily make yourself known at Swarthmore. My daughter had to do it from six hours away in Boston. But, she knew what kind of effort it was going to take to get into her "dream" school. By the time her application arrived, her regional admissions officer knew that she was seriously interested in the college and that she had taken the initiative to learn about the school.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 01:39 am: Edit

Interesteddad: I understand what you're saying, and am getting around to doing that. I can't plan my overnight visit yet because I have to wait and see the rehearsal schedule for my school's fall show. Also, as of the last time I checked, the schedule of classes wasn't finalized yet, so I couldn't see the times of the classes and things like that. Once I'm back in school and know what commitments I have to my activities I'll be able to plan out my visits (and I plan to make several). Do you think that a letter would be a bad idea, though, in addidion to doing the other things?

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 02:15 am: Edit

My daughter started with a brief introductory e-mail to her regional admissions officer, including a statement of her first choice interest and a couple of appropriate questions.

From that point on, virtually all of her contacts were made independently of the admissions office through her own research. However, she sent cc: copies of all of her e-mail correspondence with professors and other staff members at Swarthmore to her regional admissions officer. Of course, each introductory e-mail to these various people included a brief explanation of her specific interest in their department.

I have no idea if her regional adcom paid much attention to the cc: e-mails. Fine if he did, fine if he didn't. Even if he just deleted them unread, he at least saw her name a dozen times over the course of the summer and fall. He did reply promptly to the e-mails directly addressed to him and almost certainly knew the gist of my daughter's application before it arrived. Each person she contacted reinforced a "bullet point" on her application since both her application and her contacts at Swat were based on her specific interests.

I'm not suggesting that this approach is ideal for every applicant or every school.
My daughter weighed the possibility that she would be viewed as a "pest" (and was very careful to make sure that all of her communications were legitimate). In the final analysis, she figured that Swarthmore is such a tiny place that this kind of communication would be likely to be viewed positively rather than negatively. And frankly, she figured that she didn't have anything to lose by being aggressive. What's the worst that can happen -- a rejection letter? Trust me, that wouldn't have been a surprise...

She did not make this kind of effort for every school on her list. However, she did try to have at least some personal e-mail dialog with her regional admissions officer at five or six schools on her list. It's a two-way street. The communication she received back from three of the schools (Emory, Davidson, Vanderbilt)increased her interest in those schools -- Emory because of its high-tech, highly efficient response system and Davidson/Vanderbilt because of friendly personal communication from the regional adcoms. I don't think these schools get THAT many applicants from New England showing interest starting the summer before the application deadline. If you are basically qualified for the school, then it's all about trying to make yourself stand out a little bit.

By Dave72 (Dave72) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:30 pm: Edit

Useful advice, Interesteddad, except on one count:

>> Have you picked out a date for an overnight visit to Swat? Communicated to any department chairs on Campus? Set up meetings with department chairs?

Please, please, everyone, don't waste department chairs' time! As a department chair myself, I have seen this sort of behavior increasing among prospective students, and I can assure you that it doesn't do your case any good. At the LAC where I teach, and in every other college I know about, faculty have NO input in the admissions decisions. Obviously, if you have questions that a faculty member might be able to answer, you should feel free to ask them. But the notion that contacting or meeting a faculty member will somehow enhance your chances of being admitted is absolutely false. We don't report to the admissions office that we've heard from you, and we certainly don't try to evaluate your prospects.

Think about the consequences if every prospective student contacted the chairs of every department in which they were interested! Faculty are very busy people, and contacting us purely for strategic purposes is a very bad idea. It will only cause resentment.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:51 pm: Edit

>> Please, please, everyone, don't waste department chairs' time!

In my opinion, if the chair of a department doesn't have time to answer a few questions, arrange a tour of the labs, or recommend a good class for a prospect to observe during an overnight visit to the campus, then the prospective student should have SERIOUS reservations about the school and equally serious questions about whether the professors will "have time for" their own students.

But, then I'm weird like that. I view selecting a college as fundamentally the same transaction as shopping for a car. Student = customer. College = car dealership.

If a college feels that it cannot handle the number of applicants asking questions, then the college could easily publish truthful data about who would be wasting time applying to the school. Elite colleges could cut the number of applications in half with a little truth in advertising about what it really takes to be admitted. Otherwise, the college should be prepared to deal with the "bother" of prospective students asking questions!

By Dave72 (Dave72) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 01:41 pm: Edit

I repeat: if the student has serious questions which the department chair is the best person to answer, he or she should feel perfectly free to ask them. I go way out of my way to answer such questions. That didn't seem to be what you were proposing. The scenario you outlined was rather that prospective students should make visits with department chairs a regular part of the admissions process, as a way of scoring points with the admissions office. That's what strikes me as cynical and manipulative, and more importantly as a waste of time both for the student and for the chair.

The admissions staff (at my school, at any rate) are perfectly well qualified " to arrange a tour of the labs, or recommend a good class for a prospect to observe." That's part of their job. Meeting with hundreds and hundreds of prospective students (which is what would happen if everybody took your advice) just to improve their chances of admission is certainly not part of mine.

It's precisely BECAUSE I'm spending a great deal of time with my own students that I don't have time to visit with every prospective. There's a huge distinction between my obligations to students once they've been admitted and enrolled in my class and my obligation to prospectives who may or may not choose to apply. Surely you understand that.

I hope very much that applying to college is different from buying a car.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 02:46 pm: Edit

>> I hope very much that applying to college is different from buying a car.

I don't see any difference at all, except that buying a college is considerably more expensive and, therefore, the comparison shopping should be even more diligent.

In both cases, the consumer needs to define his or her individual needs and then try to learn as much as possible about how well each product might meet them. Specifically, I would not purchase either a car or a college education without a "test drive". In the case of a college, meeting several professors is an integral part of the test drive process.

>> The scenario you outlined was rather that prospective students should make visits with department chairs a regular part of the admissions process, as a way of scoring points with the admissions office.

I didn't suggest learning about the college as a way of "scoring points". In my opinion, the more a consumer learns about a school, the more he or she can make an informed decision about the "fit" of school. For example, suppose the student places a high value on professor/student interaction and then learns that the chairman of a depart is too busy to answer a polite e-mail question?

For example, my daughter was interested in majoring in a particular department. Yet, in researching the department, she discovered that the school only averages seven majors a year in that department. Her question, quite reasonable in my opinion, is "why?". That is not a question that is answered in the viewbooks. It is a question that the chairman of the department answered in the e-mail communication and then volunteered to meet with my daughter in his office and arrange for a current major to give my daughter a tour and answer her questions.

As for a simple e-mail asking permission to sit in on a class taught by the professor -- that seems like common courtesy. In one case, the professor wrote back that the particular class wouldn't be appropriate as it was a 5-student seminar on a topic that would make no sense to my daughter. He recommended that she would benefit more by sitting in on a different class he was teaching during her visit.

In another case, the professor replied that the particular class would be an excellent sample for my daughter. She, then, gave my daughter the reading assignment for the class (a rather obscure Russian novel). By contacting the professor ahead of time, my daughter was able to arrange a local inter-library loan of the book and read it before she attended the class. Plus, the professor didn't just arrive and find some kid sitting at the discussion table because she had been given the courtesy of knowing in advance. The professor took a few minutes after the class to talk with my daughter about the department. All of this was accomplished with one e-mail from a daughter, one reply from the professor, a confirmation email from my daughter, and a final e-mail from my daughter after her visit thanking the professor for her time.

In a third case, my daughter wanted to learn about the community service program at the college. In making advanced arrangements with the head of community service, she was able to learn that the contact person would be out of town during my daughter's visit. However, she arranged for my daughter to meet with the day-to-day program coordinator staff person, who actually turned out to be a more appropriate contact. This staff person spent two hours meeting with my daughter, was very interested in my daughter's experiences and in sharing the college's philosophy of community service. In a sense, this contact was not dissimilar from an athletic coach meeting with a potential varsity athlete.

The point of these contacts was not to "score brownie points". It was to show initiative in making a well-researched decision about a $160,000 purchase. If the admissions department values students who show this kind of initative, great. If they resent it, so be it. Maybe they prefer students who choose the college because of the "pretty campus and high acceptance rate into top MBA programs."

By Dave72 (Dave72) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 03:34 pm: Edit

You continue to mischaracterize my position. Just (at the risk of boring everyone else to tears) to repeat one more time: none of the questions you report your daughter as having asked was out of place or inappropriate. I was responding to your original post:

>> Actions speak louder than letters when trying to communicate your serious interest to a college. Have you picked out a date for an overnight visit to Swat? Communicated to any department chairs on Campus? Set up meetings with department chairs?

To me, it seems as though you were saying that the POINT of communicating with department chairs and setting up meetings with them is "trying to communicate your serious interest." This was all in the context of your advice as to how to improve one's chances of being admitted.

Now it seems to me as though you're saying a completely different thing.

I have never failed "to answer a polite e-mail question" from a prospective student. I am always happy to answer questions after a prospective student visits my class. I am very active in my school's admissions efforts. Nonetheless, there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to have a substantial meeting with every prospective student. And it's bad advice to suggest that every prospective student ought to try to arrange such a visit if they want to be admitted to a competitive school. I hope most readers of this thread will understand that, even if you don't.

This will be my last post to this thread.

By Takeheart (Takeheart) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 09:11 pm: Edit

I want to thank everyone for all of their help.

This is what my new college list looks like:

Yale EA (to be dropped in the mail and forgotten about)
Harvard &Princeton - I don't think that I'll apply here unless my SATs skyrocket with a retake

Swat, Carleton, Williams, Dartmouth - my real reaches (will probably apply to 3)

Davidson, Emory, Haverford, Vassar - my matches (will probably apply to 3)

Oxford of Emory - my safety. Will apply unless I get into Yale early (miracles happen sometimes, right?)

I think that's a lot more balanced than before. If my SATs go up to mid to high 1500s on my next retake, I might apply to one less match and one more reach, or something like that. We'll see.

By Anxiousmom (Anxiousmom) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 09:52 pm: Edit

Bravo Dave72! THanks for your wonderful posts. I agree with you completely, and have mentioned your main point several times in other posts (although not nearly as well as you!). I think parents go overboard in misguided attempts to demonstrate interest, to the detriment of faculty. There are at least 10 students that apply to a strong university for every one student that actually attends. If professors and dept. chairs spent 2 hours dealing with each prospective student, that would be a HUGE amount of time that would not spent conferencing with current students, teaching, serving on committees, doing research, publishing, etc.
It's unfair, and it's a waste of resources. Interestedad, you wouldn't want to have YOUR kid's professors all tied up dealing with prospies, would you? I also think that ccing: all your emails to the adcom, emailing a zillion people, and writing fancy cover letters and sending endless updates and additional materials, is just silly. At least in these cases you are mostly just overloading the adcoms instead of the professors....

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 10:17 pm: Edit

In my daughters case I think visitng the school several times ( once before acceptance and once after) was plenty to indicate interest as well as her " why reed" essay.
She did have a long chat with a prof who was still on campus when she was there for her prospie vist and her host was entrenched in the library , but I don't even know if she ( outside of application of course) admissions, and actually after briefly meeting them that fall, I didn't have the impression that she had much of a shot. Remember time of year prbably has a lot to do with access. If you visit during finals or right before a break people will be harried and not as talkative as on a beautiful day right after a break. We also found that hanging out in the library lobby was a good place to corral people and ask questions, although it can be easier to approach a single student over a group.
To go back to the original question, good luck, but just know that if you don't have any real safeties and don't have some kind of really unusall hook like a best selling novel, you may find yourself in the position of an average joe only asking supermodels for a date to the prom. Its best to have a backup plan.
When you say these schools are matches, they are matches in stats only. But your match schools have so many applicants at the same level that you cannot predict who admissions will choose.
THe most competitive schools are reaches for everyone except for possibly a legacy who has donated major buildings, been nominated for the Nobel or perhaps won an Olympic medal. It is not saying that they are not qualified and wouldn't do well there, but the numbers of qualified applicants are so high that it is anyones guess who will be admitted. I realize I am repeating myself but it bears repeating.
The Ivies don't help with their deluges of glossy brochures & "personalized" letters, to indicate their "special" interest in you.
Don't fall for it and only apply to hard to get in schools . There are lots of great schools out there.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 10:59 pm: Edit

>> Interestedad, you wouldn't want to have YOUR kid's professors all tied up dealing with prospies, would you?

Absolutely, I would. IMO, what makes her college special is that they find students who are really, really well-suited to a specific style and culture. Thus, it is very important that the prospects AND the college find out enough about each other to recognize a good fit. Interestingly, the Dean of Admissions chose to highlight the "Why Podunk U?" essay as the one thing his people consider very seriously in weighing many well-qualified applicants. He said that they are looking for specifics, indicating that the applicant has invested the time in getting to know the school.

The only meeting she asked for was with the Community Service organization. Her other meeting/lab tour was volunteered by a department chair. She initially contacted this professor because she had had dinner with a family friend who was a semi-recent alum. Turns out he had majored in the department and insisted that she meet this particular professor on her return visit to Phila. The alum was trying to sell her on the school and he KNEW this professor's enthusiasm would sell her. It did.

>> I also think that ccing: all your emails to the adcom, emailing a zillion people, and writing fancy cover letters and sending endless updates and additional materials, is just silly. At least in these cases you are mostly just overloading the adcoms instead of the professors....

The sum total of her e-mail conversations (other than casual stuff with students she had met) consisted of three e-mails each to three individuals and her regional adcom. All of these conversations started in July and ended with her campus visit in early October -- except for one reply to an e-mail FROM her regional adcom in November pointing her to a just-published article about community service that he thought would interest her.

She did send a cover letter with her application, although it wasn't particularly "fancy" -- standard one-page business letter indentifying herself and listing the contents of the package and materials scheduled to arrive from other places. Otherwise, her entire application consisted of the printed forms and essays -- no attachments, no resumes, no updates.

She probably would have updated them when she received one of three statewide high school community service recognitions, but by that time, she had already been accepted to the college and sent her deposit. I don't think that such an update would be considered out of line.

I do agree with both you and Dave that you have to consider the specific school and be extremely careful about not asking "busywork" questions or not respecting people's time. Concise, business-like communication with legitimate questions in areas of legitimate interest.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 11:46 pm: Edit

My S recently emailed a couple of Directors of Undergraduate Studies at a college to ask about dual majors. The possibility of combining two majors is crucial to his college selection. He'd already visited the college and had been shown around by one DUS but had not thought about visiting the other one. In less than one day, he received a detailed reply from each of them. I was mightily impressed that the two profs were so quick to reply in the middle of August. I half expected them to be on vacation. My S won't cc adcoms and we doubt that the profs will mention the correspondence to the adcoms. But "showing interest" was not the point and the profs must have known it.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 12:10 am: Edit

My daughter received prompt e-mail replies from virtually everyone. I don't think your son was being "pesky" at all: question, answer, thank-you.

My theory on cc'ing that adcom is that it is polite to keep them in the loop. I look at it like business correspondence. If you were contacting the engineering department of a supplier for detailed product specifications, it would be rude to not let the supplier's sales department know of your communication. Given that the admissions office is the school's "sales department", I'm not sure it's courteous to "backdoor" them. I also suspect they'd rather scan a cc: email than have to scurry around and get answers to every question themselves!

I do think it's important to get all this kind of communication out of the way before the official start of application season November 1st. Gotta be nuts to load up your adcom's mailbox once that pile of applications starts arriving.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 09:46 am: Edit

Re. dept contacts: I see both points of view. It is logistically impossible for profs to meet with all prospective students when this becomes part of a *showing interest* strategy. There just aren't enough hours in the day. A very few very focused and/or advanced students will need to be sure for an ea/ed app that the dept is appropriate: that listed courses really exist, that certain faculty won't be on leave, that research opportunities wil be available. But IMHO most students can tell from university publications whether the dept seems to be right for them and do more in-depth investigation after they know if they are accepted. My sons only professorial contacts during the application process were courtesy contacts, made by family friends trying to interest them in a particular school and arranging meetings/tours -- sort of like Interesteddad describes. We do the same for friends' kids applying locally but no one is under any illusions that this helps the student with admissions. We tend to think any obvious parent/family friend intervention will hurt, not help. So many issues arise: is the student not capable of speaking for her/himself? is it the parent and not the child actually interested in the school? does the parent/friend just annoy the admissions office and blow it for the student? After admissions, the colleges that were tops on my kids' lists initiated discussions about what would be available and there were meetings with various depts/labs. IMHO this is what the admitted students weekend is for. The only downside to waiting for intense investigation, again IMHO, is running out of time if your student has really good luck with the process.

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