Top Tips for Choosing the Best Schools to Apply to

With the admissions season almost in full swing, it’s important to prepare a strategy for applying to schools.

The application process will typically consist of a general online application comprised of the following materials:


    • GPA/Transcript

    • Standardized Test Score

    • General background questions

    • Personal Statement

    • Diversity Statement (usually optional)

    • Supplemental Essays (usually at least one is required)

    • Letters of Recommendation (usually one or two required but some schools allow more)

    • Resume (or list of experiences, honors, awards, etc.)

    • Interview (not always required) 

    • Optional addenda (low standardized test taker, explanation for [X] due to extraordinary circumstances, etc.)

Your GPA and standardized test score carry the most weight in admissions decisions. Schools will publish the range of students who were admitted with a certain GPA and standardized test score. You can use these metrics as a good point of reference to determine whether a school is a reach, target, or safety school. 

For example, Louisiana State University’s admitted class profile for the most recent academic year is listed below.

GPA: 3.5-4.1

ACT: 23-29

SAT: 1130-1310

These figures represent the middle 50% of students who were admitted. If your GPA and standardized test score fall within this range, you likely have a solid chance of being admitted (assuming of course your other application materials are decent). 25% of students, however, scored above and below these ranges, so your odds can increase or decrease depending on how far you are from the middle 50% range. 

To use these figures, an applicant with a 3.2 GPA and 23 ACT would have lower odds of getting in than someone with a 3.8 GPA and 25 ACT. However, if the first applicant has outstanding letters of recommendation, a unique personal statement, and strong leadership experiences, the odds increase. 

Schools have discretion in certain instances to consider other soft factors aside from the numbers that can give applicants an edge. A student with an outstanding application package except for a standardized test score in the lower 25% range still has a chance at getting into their dream school if their application materials tell a compelling story that makes the admissions officers fight for them. However, a student with an average application package and a standardized test score in the lower 25% range will likely face an uphill battle at getting accepted into that specific university. 

This is all to say that admissions is all about risk balancing. As a senior in high school applying to college or a senior in college applying to law, medical, or business school, you won’t be able to drastically increase your GPA, and you may only have a few opportunities to retake a standardized test before the cut off times before your application is considered final. What you can do is make sure that all of your other application materials (personal statement, letters of recommendation, supplemental essays, etc.) are in excellent shape to give you the best chance of success. 

Below are some considerations that can help you shape your strategy when applying. 

It’s probably best to apply to as many schools as possible within your means (use fee waivers if you qualify) to maximize your chances of success. However, you should be strategic and break out your applications into reach, target, and safety schools. 


    • Reach Schools – The bulk of your applications should be here to maximize your chances of success. These are schools where your standardized test scores and/or GPA are in the bottom 25%. Your odds of gaining admission to these schools are on the lower end and likely between 0% and 50% (depending on where you fall on the scale), but to maximize your chances, you should have a tailored application package and outstanding supporting materials to tell your unique story that highlights your strengths. 

    • Target Schools – These are the schools where your GPA/standardized test scores fit comfortably in the middle 50% of students who were admitted. Your odds here are probably around 50% or more depending on where you fall on the scale. You should apply to a good number of these schools. 

    • Safety Schools – These are the schools where your GPA/standardized test scores are comfortably above the upper 75% range for admitted students. You are likely a scholarship candidate, and your odds of getting accepted are probably at least 75% or more. You should apply to a good number of these schools.