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Countdown to College: Find colleges that want you more than you want them

Don’t feed the frenzied fever of the college admissions process. Families often get caught up in the high stakes of college admissions competition. If you’re willing to look beyond the super-selective top tier of colleges, you’ll find that colleges need you more than you need them.

A survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed found that 79 percent of colleges were either “very or moderately concerned” about not meeting their enrollment goals this year. And that’s up from 76 percent last year. These stats are particularly relevant to private nonprofit colleges.

According to Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, it’s the “nonfamous privates” that are struggling the most. These small to midsize privates don’t have the deep pockets that the famous brand-name schools have. Without the big endowments, they’re forced to rely much more on tuition payments to cover costs.

Many of these colleges are often willing to offer bigger discounts or may match competing schools’ offers of financial aid. Knowing this tidbit ahead of time can dramatically alter a student’s college list. If you know that your stats are in the top 25 percent (above the college’s middle 50 percent), you have: 1) a much greater likelihood of being accepted and 2) a reasonably good chance that you’ll be offered an attractive financial aid package.

The problem is that most families never look beyond the usual suspects in their geographic region or the name schools nationally. Depending on the student’s academic and extracurricular profile, they may be considered a much more desirable applicant somewhere else, and that desirability is often rewarded with money.

Make your list and check it twice. The biggest response to the competitive frenzy has been an alarming increase in the number of applications submitted by students. It’s called “Application Overkill.” Unfortunately it is not that unusual to hear of students applying to 15, 18 or even 23 colleges.

What’s wrong with that? There is no way a student can apply to that many colleges and do a solid job on each one. What frequently happens is that students focus too much of their time in the beginning on their dream school application.

They start the process with lots of energy and labor over each essay. But then they get burned out after that first or second application. When it comes time to complete their applications for their target and safety schools, they don’t do a good job.

The college admissions process doesn’t need to be crazed. If you understand what makes you appealing, as well as your financial limitations, and you are willing to look at colleges with an open mind, the process can be downright rewarding.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at www.CollegeAdmissionsStrategies.com.