College Rankings, a questionable Beauty Contest

With over 3,ooo colleges and universities in the US, it is impossible not to check out a school’s ranking. Annual publications such as US News “Best Colleges ” and Princeton Review’s “The 377 Best Colleges” often become staples when college shopping. With tuition being sky-high, you want to do your research. However, different books mean different rankings. Who do you trust?


The vicious contest of rankings

Remember, the goal of the publishing industry is to get you to purchase their books. This is reason # 1 why you should interpret each college ranking with a grain of salt! If the rankings do not change each year, then there is no need to publish and sell a new book. So starts the vicious cycle of ranking colleges.

When a college is ranked in the top 100, it is deemed more desirable, which positively effects an increase in applications. The more applications a college receives, the lower their acceptance rate become, which helps their overall rankings! For example, a school may it receives 5,000 applications and it offers 1000 acceptances, thus the acceptance rate is 20%. The following year, the school sees a jump in applications to 10,000  (Maybe the basketball team won the big game or they now offer free applications.)  However, the school still can only offer 1000 letters of admission. The increase in applications is good for the college because now their  acceptance rate is 10%. By increasing the number of applications they receive, they increase their deemed attractiveness or desirability. Wow, the college is hot! It will move up in the rankings.

It’s Good to be King or Queen…

The higher a school moves in the rankings, the easier it is to fill seats, collect full pay tuition and increase the school’s endowment. These qualities assures a college a seat at the table of the Top, Best, Fabulous Colleges. Life is good. There are clear benefits of being highly ranked. What is a school to do?  How do they get to crack into the top-tier?

Each publication has its own measures of how it ranks the colleges, US News “Best Colleges” includes factors such as student selectivity, alumni giving, retention rate and peer assessment amongst others measures. Thus a college will work very hard to improve their rankings in these categories. Unfortunately, a few colleges, even very selective schools have been accused of skewing their statistics to demonstrate more favorable data than the competition.

Like a beauty pageant contestant will use all sorts of tricks to enhance her beauty, so might a college skew their own self reported statistics to boost their image. The rankings of colleges are not a definite science nor should it be. A top-tier school might be an absolute awful place to attend if it’s not the right fit for the student. Selecting a college is a very personal. Factors such as location (i.e., cities, mountains, rural) or culture  ( i.e., liberal, intense, athletics, religious)  are not typically measured in these rankings. If you go to school # 254 on the list and you love your classes, can afford the tuition and make great friends, wouldn’t you rank this perfect school #1?  After all, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Your College List Strategy…

Few students will apply to only one school (usually for the purpose of early decision or they have the heart set on their flagship public university), but for the rest September is the time to polish up your final college list and commit to sending 7 to 10 applications.

Smart applicants will cast a wide net of schools that fall into the below categories:

2 Reach Schools

Match Schools

Safety Schools

2 Financial Safeties  

= 10 Applications

Guidelines of  “Reach”, “Match”, “Safety” and “Financial Safety”:

Reach schools– have low acceptance rates, and your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are might be school’s average. The college also has a very low acceptance rate.

Match schools–  means you have a realistic chance of being admitted. For a school to be a match,  your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are above the college’s average and the acceptance rate >30%.

Safety schools–  GPA and SAT/ACT scores are well above the college’s average and the college has a high acceptance rate, >60%. Note that a college hates to be considered a “safety”, so be sure never to mention that you think they are a safety!

Financial Safety– means you apply to schools that you can afford to attend; in-state public college, community college,  or a college which will give you significant scholarship. There are very few opportunities to receive big scholarships. Examples include if you are a recruited athlete, or your SAT/ACTs are outstanding and a less selective college offers “full ride”.

Where to start? You have talked with friends, family, and your guidance counselor. You have attended college fairs and visited a few campuses. Now print a copy of bart “College Comparison Spreadsheet” and start filling it out. Our favorite site for researching a college’s data and fast facts is

Do you want Merit Scholarship offers? Then apply to more “safety” schools and “Early Action” schools. If it is a state university, apply ASAP. Many are rolling admissions so do not wait until the deadline! As the saying goes “the early bird gets the worm, the acceptance, financial aid and the scholarship”! Note that very selective colleges rarely offer merit scholarships, although they will offer financial aid, and that usually means loans.

Applying to several colleges, at about $60 each, is expensive. However, do not limit yourself because of the application fee. Remember you are “casting a wide net” and want to create opportunities to be considered for merit scholarships. If it is too expensive, apply for a fee waiver. Go to  fee waiver application .

Do not let your high school guidance counselor discourage you from applying to your well researched, list of 8+ schools! After you have received several Acceptance Letters, your next hurdle will be comparing tuition, financial aid and maybe merit scholarships.

Many colleges are offering “Priority” applications which often will waive the application fee if you apply by a certain date. Do call your favorite admission office and find out if they are offering “Priority, No Fee” applications. An increase in applications benefits the college’s rankings so many are offering this marketing strategy. Colleges want you to apply to them.

Do you have your List? Now attack those applications!

College Wait List – What to do

waitlistThe college wait list; you are not accepted, yet not rejected, you have been wait-listed. Yes! This leaves hope that you may still get in. If it is your dream college, then read on. If it is a college you were lukewarm about and you have an acceptance offer elsewhere, then proudly wear the t-shirt of the admitted college you will be attending.

Turning a “wait list” into an “acceptance” is not easy. You have to be proactive. You must advocate for your application.

 What should you do?

If you are on a wait-listed and are truly want to attend this college, you must do some research and plan a consistent campaign of:

  1. Letting the college know that you promise to attend if you are accepted
  2. Giving them new information as to why they should accept you.

How a wait list is managed varies from college to college. Some colleges have less than 100 students wait listed, while others have more than 800. Typically, waitlisted students are not ranked, so it is up to the wait-listed applicants to be active and keep their application on top of the pile.

The first step to the wait list usually requires the student to respond to the college letting them know that they wish remain on their list. This involves sending a return post card or signing into the college portal system. If you do not respond, you may be deleted from the list.

Call your assigned admissions officer and ask for feedback regarding your application. If the college does not have an assigned officer, call the general number and ask to speak to an admissions counselor. Ask how many others are on the list and if there are any questions or concerns that the admissions team had when evaluating your application. The person you speak with maybe be politely vague, yet they may give you solid information. The more you know the better your strategy. If you can get some concrete answers to what your application was lacking you might be able to do something about it.

Research the college’s Common Data Set (CDS), from the previous year.  Although not all colleges publish a CDS it is very helpful in researching specific statistics about the school. (You should read the CDS of any school you ultimately decide to attend.) The CDS is the college’s annual self-reported data includes student demographics, test scores, courses, tuition, enrollment, acceptances, retention rates, etc.

The CDS often includes information regarding the previous years wait list; how many applicants were placed on it and how many were later offer admissions. This will give you a realistic view of the opportunity to move off the wait list.

Write the admission department a letter professing your love for their school. Tell them that if you are accepted you promise that you will attend. However, you must be true to your word.  Be specific and state why you would be a good fit for their college. What talents do you offer? Highlight your interests in leadership, community activism, a specific major, and tell them how you would employ these skills on their campus.

Send them any additional highlights of your senior year that they may not have seen since you first applied. Did you win a special award or receive any recognition? Have you had an article published in the school newspaper, or have your grades gone up? Did you get an after school job? Send them evidence of you being an achiever so it distinguishes you from the rest of the other students on the waitlist.

Send updates by mail or fax and then follow up with an email. It is a good idea to create a paper trail. Emails often get lost, deleted or go unnoticed.

Reach out to the admissions department frequently, politely and consistently. Do not send any gimmicks and do not show up unannounced at the admissions office. This works against you.  It is embarrassing for the admissions committee to receive fruit baskets or homemade cupcakes.

Do you really want to attend this school? Then send them another letter highlighting new information that makes you sparkle! You have anywhere between 4 to 10 more weeks to show them that you are motivated and a “go getter”. It may mean creating a special charity event, food drive, clothing drive, senior citizen luncheon, Habitat for Humanity, or landscaping project for a nonprofit nursery school. You organize, gather friends and family, execute the project, take pictures and then let the college know about it.

In the meantime, grow to love where you have been accepted. If you do not have any college acceptances, go for a semester or two at your local community college. It will save you money and give you a second chance. Get great grades while attending and reevaluate your list of where you applied. Find a few more schools that have higher acceptance rates and are a closer match to your GPA and test scores. You may even want to consider a well structured GAP year program. Also note that there are many excellent colleges that will still have spots available in the incoming freshman class. In early May, the NACAC, (National Association for College Admission Counseling) maintains a list of colleges that still have openings, go to their website for and search Space Availability Survey.

Don’t be discouraged, there are many options for you. Your future does not hinge on going to one certain college. You may just want to wrap your arms around the accepted offer you have in hand and enjoy the rest of your senior year.  Remember even people who go to the most coveted college in the world, Harvard, can end up dropping out.

Harvard dropout, dream schools are not always what they seem to be!

Harvard dropout, dream schools are not always what they seem to be!

Another Swag Contest! UGA


College football fans got to enter to win this University of Georgia T-shirt.  If your are looking to attend a big flagship public university that loves football put UGA on your list. The Bulldogs make their home in Athens, GA- which has a very fun, college town feel (and just 1 hour from Altanta).

Founded in 1785, UGA is steeped in tradition and has something for everyone: 17 colleges and schools, 389  buildings on 700+ acre campus. A beautiful campus boosting a state of the art fitness center and a student learning center that has 96 private group study rooms, coffee shop, etc.

UGA mascot

UGA’s acceptance rate is 59%, average SATs is about 600 Math and 600 Reading. Lots of merit scholarships for the 19% Out of State attendees who qualify for the Ramsey Honors Scholar ($6,700). In state tuition is $10K and out of state is $27K, add on about $9K for room and board.

U Georgia

Princeton Review ranked UGA #5 Best Public University value.  And the weather is fabulous….

Contest ends May 20, 2013

uga dawg

Swag Giveaway # 5 – Villanova!

Congratulations Laurel N. for winning the Villanova T-shirt! Thanks everyone for entering!!!

Next contest coming soon…

You got to be in it to win it! Enter you name to win this Villanova, classic  navy blue 100% cotton, medium tee shirt. Contest ends March 20, 2013

Villanova tshirt

Villanova’s beautiful campus is set in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Admissions criteria is highly selective for this Catholic school founded in 1842 which is known for small classes, community service projects, caring professors, intense alumni support, job networking, and dedicated basketball fans. Undergraduate enrollment consists of 6,000 who are enrolled in either the College of Engineering, Nursing, Business or Arts and Sciences. The school boosts a freshman retention rate of 94%.

To enter the contest go to the Swag Giveaway tab to enter your email address.

nova campus

To learn more about Villanova go to Or even better, gather a few friends and go to a home basketball game! The “Wildcat” school spirit is contagious.

10 Christmas Gifts for the College Bound

Are you at a loss with what to get your high school senior this Christmas?  Here are a  few practical items that won’t go to waste! 


  1. Laundry Lessons – get junior his/her own laundry basket this Christmas & let the good times roll. Time to prepare for college living. Don’t let lack of clean underwear, socks  & a smelly bedroom be the reason for “the freak out. ” When it comes to exam time, college freshman can stress out. They may be homesick, tired of their roommate, and worried about writing papers. A sky high mound of laundry and no clean socks doesn’t help.
  2. 20 Pairs of Underwear or more. See above.
  3. Two Dozen  pairs of Socks – identical (Costco). Lose a sock and you have 47 more that match.
  4. Electric Razor – easy & fast, buy cheap since dorm living calls for lots of borrowing & few returns.
  5. Electric Toothbrush – why not make hygiene easy?
  6. The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen, a fun read of  behind-the-scenes look at everything students need to know about college.
  7. Outdoor Gear – College students spend a lot more time commuting by foot than they did in high school. Gore-Tex style jackets, all-weather shoes and/or  “wellies” rain boots. Going to a cold campus? Stock up on hats & gloves.
  8. Kindle or Tablet – if you were thinking about buying one, these are pretty handy. Students can download some of their required books and if it is backlit  they can read in bed without bothering the roommate.
  9. Clothes –  business casual – many colleges have required dress codes for special presentations, interviews, Greek life, etc.  Men need blazers, dress shirt and khakis, Women need a conservative dress, jacket or dark cardigan sweater, flat shoes.
  10. Smart Phone – Professors and colleges send emails to the students all day long. It may be a class cancellation or campus alert. The students want to read emails without relying on a laptop. Think iphone – save a few bucks and get the older version “4S.” It’s really super smart :) .
  11. Bonus Gift –Corn hole is an outdoor game that involves little skill and lots of socializing. Think bean bag toss. The college kids only the authentic and made out of plywood. Don’t get  them made out of plastic version. You can find on them

Down the road, maybe a graduation gift?

Don’t get the laptop until you know what school you will be attending. Some colleges include new laptops in the tuition that are maintained by their own tech support. Some colleges also offer special discounts to purchase through their supplier.

Anything at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It can wait.

BTW- Save those tacky, ornate Christmas Sweaters for next year. They will be a hit at the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.

Grateful! Happy Thanksgiving

Hello college bound friends! We are thankful for you “Like”-ing CITBag on Fb, following on Twitter, clicking on the website, sharing with your friends and special thanks for the student clients we work with directly.

Just think, next year you will be a college freshman; exhausted, invigorated, with new friends and new expereinces who is so grateful to be home for Turkey Day! ♥

How are your Applications Progressing?

Sorry folks for the “radio silence”CITBag has been without power due to hurricane Sandy! We hope you are doing well & taking this opportunity to get your application calendar, deadlines organized. Once your apps are completed, PLEASE start working on the FASFA and checking financial aid and scholarship deadlines.

We hope to post more Tips, Trends, and money-saving ideas in the next few days!

Frankenstorm and Nov. 1 Application Deadline

With the mother of all storms bearing down on the Northeast, many high schools are closed and today seniors are taking the opportunity to finish Early Action and Early Decision applications which are due in a few short days.  Just like the government officials who are warning homeowners to be prepared, you too want to take into consideration your application deadline and losing power for several days…

If you have yet to submit your application for the November 1st deadline take the time now to:

  • Back up all you essays on to a hard disc and/or thumb drive. If you lose power, you will be prepared to can take your work to a nearby location that has power such as  a library, school or friend’s house.
  • Print a hard copy of your common app essays and all application supplemental questions. If you lose power, you can work on them with pen and paper
  • If you still have power, send an email to the college admissions offices that you  intend to submit you application in time for the Nov 1 deadline, however, you are concerned that the approaching storm may cause power outages and your submission may be delayed.  Many admission offices will be understanding if your application is a day late due to complications caused by the hurricane.
  • Check out this link for more than 20 colleges who have already determined deadline extensions.

In October 2011 many homes were without power for 7 days and more. Life gets uncomfortable during natural disasters, don’t let your college applications fall victim to “Frankenstorm 2012″.

Good luck and stay safe everyone!