Accepted to a Reach School? 5 Things to Consider First

The conventional wisdom in today’s competitive climate of applying to college suggests that every high school senior should send applications to target, safety and reach schools.

Each student’s reach school will be unique to them, but by definition, a reach school for most students is one that is highly selective and has a very low acceptance rate. Or, it is a certain program within a school that is highly touted and very competitive.

As acceptance rates continue to decline yearly at many colleges, the list of reach schools grows. For a student to be accepted to a reach school, they have obviously succeeded in high school, and have shown a much higher than average aptitude with academics and extracurricular activities.

Therefore, these students should all be very well prepared for life at a reach school, right?

Not so fast.

% things your kid should consider if they get into their reach school

Here are some insights into the challenges they may very well encounter, and what they – and you as a parent – need to be aware of, and discuss at length, before they commit.

5 Things Your Senior Needs to Consider Before Attending a Reach School

1. Everyone there is likely a “superstar”. Campus is brimming with valedictorians, kids who aced their standardized tests, and others who have accomplished some pretty amazing things in their young lives. Be prepared for the possibility that your child could start to suffer from Imposter Syndrome.

According to Scientific American (May 2015): “Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  It strikes smart, successful individuals.  It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.” 

Will your student do well in an environment if they feel like they were lucky to get in, or that everyone else there is probably smarter than they are, whether this is true or not?

2. Many classes could be extremely rigorous. “Weed-out” classes are called that for a reason. No matter how many AP or IB classes a student succeeded in during high school, they may still not be able to get A’s in some of their college courses, even if they feel like they are studying “all the time.” How will they handle getting B’s and perhaps some C’s? Will there be an extreme amount of pressure for them to maintain a certain GPA to keep a scholarship?

3. How will you as a parent handle them not getting the kinds of grades they got in high school? Will you pressure them to change their major to maintain a higher GPA? Will you have unrealistic expectations for what they can manage, while also living on their own for the first time?

4. If your student is having to spend most of their time studying, or dedicated to their program’s requirements, will they be OK limiting the amount of time they have for social activities, like clubs, sporting events, Greek life, or having a part-time job?

5. Could the prestige or reputation of a certain school overshadow your student’s true academic interests, or geographical preference? If the reach school doesn’t offer your child’s first choice major, will they be satisfied with choosing a different one? Think carefully about the city’s climate and what there is for students to do in the area surrounding campus.

Mental health issues are a legitimate concern for a rising number of college students today. As parents, we know our children the best, and should be realistic with what they can handle when they head off to college.

Acceptance to a reach school may seem like a dream come true, and it can be a wonderful place for your student to be pushed to do their very best, but it could also result in some unnecessary and very real pressure to perform. Take your time making this significant decision and remember that your child’s mental health is just as important as where they get their diploma.

Photo credit: Daytripper University


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About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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