College Advice: Choosing From Your Backup Schools


“I was rejected from my top choice school and waitlisted at my second choice. What do I do? How do I choose amongst my backup schools? I don’t know anything about them!” – Lauren B., Houston, TX
The Dreaded Thin Envelope – Now What?
Expert: Samia Ferraro – Independent College Counselor, College Connection
You have spent months researching schools and telling your story on numerous applications only to be denied your dream choice.  What is an 18 year old to do? Take a deep breath and remember that there are schools on your list who do want you; who feel as though you are a good fit for them. Review your criteria of what you are looking for in a school: geography, size, programs, etc. and apply these to the schools to which you have been accepted. It will be a win – win for you and the college you decide to attend.
Focus, research and carefully compare based on what matters most
Expert: Jennifer DesMaisons – Director of College Counseling, The Putney School in Vermont
Send any updated information about grades, activities or leadership to your waitlist school. Make a list of the things that matter most to you (city, small classes, strong athletics, access to art classes, options for research as an undergrad, like-minded people, focus on community). Comb through college websites for answers. Sign up for any revisit days. Compare financial aid packages as part of the equation. Reach out to students who attend these schools and ask questions. Notice the places and people that you are drawn to most. Those “backup” schools were on your original list for a reason.
Work with what you have
Expert: Dave Hamilton – Director of College Advising, St. Mary’s Ryken High School
Even though the waitlist may seem like a possibility, students should pursue all other options at this time. If this means they need to get up to speed on their other choices, they need to do so ASAP. Be sure to visit those colleges, ask insightful questions, chat with a faculty member in your intended field of study, pick up a campus newspaper, and talk to current students. In the end, it is not where you go but what you do where you go.
Visiting is usually the best way to learn about a school
Expert: Julie Manhan – Founder, College Navigation
How great that several other schools really want you to be a student there! I would compare your backup schools side-by-side to see which ones best meet your criteria for things you are looking for in a college, then go visit those schools.  If possible, attend the events offered specifically for admitted students.  Talking with faculty and potential classmates can give you valuable insights you just can’t get anywhere else.  If you can picture yourself living and learning with these people for the next four years, you’ve likely found the best school for you.
Compare offers from back up schools before you reject them
Expert: Kimberly Arias – Director of Programs, Project GRAD
One of the scariest parts of the college application process is being faced with the possibility of having to attend one of your back up schools. Since they want you, they will offer you incentives to attend their schools. Compare financial aid packages, internship programs and job placement opportunities to see what they offer you in paid school and summer work experience. Remember, many colleges will prepare you for your future. It’s humbling to be rejected but there are many excellent schools that can help you achieve your goals and many of them view you as their top choice.
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