The Importance of The Curated College List

The College Search Part 3:
The Importance of The Curated College List

| Curate (Middle English: from medieval Latin curatus, from Latin cura ‘care.’): To select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.

This year, I had a student with high standardized test scores but a GPA that descended as he ascended. Let’s just say he began Freshman Year on a high note and ended Junior Year off-key. Some call a student with this track record — high scores, low grades — an underachiever. I call it: a young student. He simply didn’t manage his heavy-duty schedule — course load, sports, extracurriculars, social life — quite as expertly, or maturely, as he needed to. Instead of creating my usual college list of 8-10 schools, we opted for a looser, flabbier, bigger list, one comprised of schools in climates and geographical locations that the student didn’t necessarily love, but where he knew he could thrive, academically, socially and emotionally. In other words, he declared that while he didn’t love every school on his final list, he would go to any of the 15 and bloom where he was planted. (Note: He got into a preferred school in a preferred state where he can ocean-swim and pursue his love of emergency medicine.)

This student was an outlier.

For the majority of students, a well-curated list yields the most success and the least anxiety:

Perfect Students Can Become Even More Perfect

Even students who seem like Teflon with their high scores and grades, athletic prowess and Carnegie Hall musical talent, can have a college list that fails them. I had a student who went to a meritocratic aka test-in high school and received acceptances only from her Likelies/Safeties. She was rejected at her Reaches and rejected at many of her Targets. She was Waitlisted at a Seven Sisters school where she crafted what we hoped would be a winning First Choice letter. In the meantime, she accepted the safest of her Safeties, a large state university that offered her a robust merit aid package. She turned down two competitive, small, private liberal arts colleges which, for her, didn’t offer enough diversity. “I learned a lot about myself during the revisits,” she said. The fact that this fairly perfect-on-paper student had a challenging college search journey and ended it with personal growth was illuminating for me. She made lemonade out of lemons and taught me a thing or two about list curation in the process! (Note: She got off the Wait List at the Seven Sisters college and matriculated there.)

Less Choice Isn’t Always A Bad Thing

I had a student get into every single school on his very considered college list. He spent a large amount of money and many hours revisiting schools only to accept an offer at his ED choice, a college that had deferred him in that first round, but ultimately accepted him RD. Perhaps he was feeling a bit of “So there,” a mild version of the middle-finger insult after he spent the holidays crafting essays for his RD list. Whatever the reason, he didn’t immediately reciprocate the late-blooming love the ED midwestern school showered on him during the RD round. He decided to travel to the seven other campuses to see if now, nearly six months after applying ED, his feelings and academic desires had changed. They hadn’t. He was still in love with his ED. And now he was emotionally — and financially — exhausted after the revisits. Upshot? Being “spoiled for choice” has its pluses and minuses.

“I Love You” Letters Are Hard To Write

Many colleges ask students for a supplemental short-answer essay in addition to the larger Common Application Essay, Coalition Essay or their own proprietary essay. I call these essays that are crafted for a particular school vs. all schools, “I Love You” letters. Their intent is to woo. To convey a passionate interest in the school for whom they’re written. One student wrote her Rice University short answer and never once mentioned that the school’s in Houston, TX, many miles from her home and in a part of the country vastly different than where she grew up. I encouraged her to do research on the city, particularly Houston’s Menil Art Museum, as this student has an interest in accessible art that encourages a personal relationship with exhibits. She ended up matriculating to Rice and interning at the Menil even though the museum said they had no internships. “I showed them my Rice essay,” she told me. Two for one, I told her.

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