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  • Cortney Dowdle

What to do if you don't get into your reach school?

Updated: Apr 6

Hi there gang. This week we are going to talk about what to do if you don’t get into your “reach school”. A lot goes along with this. Recent blogs on The Savvy International have talked about the admissions process and the logistics of narrowing down the search and deciding which schools to apply to. In addition, you as the student, parent, or even educational consultant, will have your own opinions on where the best schools are to apply for admissions. It's your job to dream the big dreams and shoot for the stars and try to get into the Harvard or MIT or UCLA or whatever the school! Sooooo what happens if you don’t get in?



First, I want to talk a bit more about getting to the point of selecting which schools you are applying to. We’ve covered the college search process and what options you have when choosing a university in the USA. Once you’ve done the research, there is still the task of picking which schools you are most likely to be admitted to. There are several factors that determine into selecting the best schools to apply to. You need to consider your profile or resume, and then you should also look at the profile of the universities you are interested in. Universities publish a profile each year that reveals average statistics for the entire incoming class. Things like GPA (grade point average), test scores, gender, and acceptance rate are often included in the school profile.


What do I mean by “reach school”? A reach school is a school that you have researched and based off of the school profile, your chances of getting in may be uncertain because you fall below the typical student described in the profile. Let’s use an example:


This is Jose. Jose is from Georgia and is graduating from a public school near the city of Atlanta. Jose has a 3.5 cumulative GPA, a 1225 combined SAT score, and a decent resume that includes two years of varsity lacrosse, three years on the tennis team, and an active role in the Student Government Association throughout high school. Jose is graduating in the top 20% of his class, and he wants to apply to four schools. Here are the universities he wants to apply to and what a piece of their profile looks like:


University of Georgia

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.97-4.21 (weighted)

  • 2018 average incoming SAT score – 1400

Georgia Southern University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.36

  • 2018 average incoming SAT score - 1139

Emory University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.78-3.99 (unweighted)

  • 2018 average incoming SAT – 1390-1540

Kennesaw State University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.32

  • 2018 average incoming SAT – 1154

Jose will likely have school counselors to help him decide which universities he has the best chance of getting into. Here is something to remember – the profile is just an average. Certainly those universities accepted students that are way below the scores listed on their profile. Those students may be stellar athletes, superb leaders in their community, or even wrote amazing essays about challenges they overcame throughout their lives. Just because you may not be above the profile statistics does not mean you shouldn’t apply to those schools. Remember that.


For those of us that have worked in education at the high school level, or who have advised international students before, just know that we all have different ways of doing things. I always recommend that students apply to 2-3 highly attainable universities. These are universities where they easily fit into the first year student profile, and they have a high probability of being admitted. I would then recommend for a student to apply to 1-2 reach schools. These are also referred to as “dream schools”. These are schools where the student really wants to attend, even if one part of their application is not as high as the school profile, or even if the school acceptance rate is quite low.



If I were advising Jose, I would advise him to apply to these four schools, with the University of Georgia and Emory University being his reach schools. I would even encourage him to apply to a couple more target schools, or schools that he is likely to get into because he matches or is above the average profile. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to students if they are still in high school is to spend the years of high school building the resume that you will use to apply to university. Be intentional in the classes you take, the clubs and organizations you join, and the passions you pursue. High school is a time to learn, grow, and explore, and it’s also a time to set yourself up for success when you go through the university admissions process.


Being an international student can be challenging. Even students in the USA rely on their school counselors and other support to make the decision of where they want to apply to. Like I’ve said before, with over 4,000 options, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which schools are the best fit for you. But I always want students to dream big huge dreams and with hard work and determination, those reach schools can become very attainable by the time you’re putting in those applications.


So now that you’ve selected the schools to apply to, and you’ve waited anxiously for the decisions to come out in the spring, and you secretly (or maybe not secretly – maybe you’ve been wearing around a university sweatshirt for years with your dream school on it) know which school you want to go to…what happens if you don’t get in?


What happens if you don’t get into the school of your dreams? Here are two things I am a firm believe in: One, everything (and I mean every, single, little thing) happens for a reason; and two, you’ve meticulously chosen schools to apply to, and none of them (none), are bad options. If you’ve you’re your research, each of those schools offers the programs you are interested in, a campus vibe that fit your personality, and a location that you’re comfortable living in for four years.



Be confident in the schools you decided to apply to. Chances are that you can be happy at another school, even if it’s not the dream school. If you haven’t read the blogs on the Admissions Process and Types of Schools, check them out! They offer a lot of details about studying in the USA that we didn’t cover in this blog.


Remember to sign up for The Savvy International webinar series here!


Until next time!

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