Aristotle described the “golden mean” to convey the middle between two extremes. Through the years, I have counseled our clients to use this model when applying to college. Those being too cautious are likely not to attain an optimal outcome and those being too risky face the dangers of recklessness. Of late, I have noticed far more parents and students choose caution.
To be clear, I would not want anyone to follow the strategy of a student that I worked with for SAT prep in 2002. Jessica attended The Williams School, the top notch prep school in New London, CT. She only wanted to attend an Ivy-league school. She applied to all 8 and no where else. She was rejected by all 8. Just a few years before, Jessica likely would have been admitted to at least one or two of the Ivies but around 2002 the frenzy for admission to elite colleges had taken off and she was caught by surprise.
On the other end, I see too many students like Caroline, a top performing student from Guilford High School from a few years ago. She would not apply to any school that she thought might reject her. That made for a list that was tilted heavily with schools that she labeled “safety” (I prefer the term “comfortable”) with only a two schools in what could be considered “range” and no schools that were “reaches.” I should note that her choices had nothing to do with financial considerations but all related to the worry about rejection.
I fully understand the sting that rejection letters create for college applicants. But setting a precedent like “don’t try if you might get rejected” is a bad precedent for life.
The Golden Mean for college admissions demands a mixture of aggression and caution when choosing schools of interest.