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  • Nancy Fries

Lessons from the Class of 2018

Updated: Sep 2, 2018


The high school Class of 2018 is now the college Class of 2022, heading off to their respective new campuses for the next four years. Over the past year, I observed some interesting and unexpected outcomes that I hope the Class of 2019 and beyond will consider in their own college admission processes. The biggest lessons:

  1. Good grades and scores aren’t enough for the most selective colleges.

  2. Apply early and strategically.

  3. Always have a back-up plan.

Nearly all of my students applied somewhere by November 1. Some were binding Early Decision applications, while others were Early Action or Rolling, but almost everyone had an application submitted before Thanksgiving. And nearly all heard something from somewhere by mid-December. Of the four students who applied to Stanford and the Ivies, only one was accepted, and she was a recruited athlete. One of my students wisely described himself as “a victim of the laws of probability.” He and the other two all had grades and scores that would put them in serious consideration; all had nice slates of extracurricular activities; and of course I thought they wrote great essays. But none was plucked as a standout from within applicant pool that was, by and large, highly qualified.


Five others applied Early Decision to highly selective liberal arts colleges. One was a recruited athlete but also academically well within the range for the school; he was accepted. Another might have gone either way, but she put together a strong application and got in. I attribute one denial to a glaring dearth of relevant extracurricular activities. Despite his 36 ACT and 4.0 GPA, the student, who was applying to one of the country’s most selective small colleges for computer science, had participated in zero computer science activities outside of school. No coding camp. No research at the local college. Nothing to prove his stated passion besides enjoying figuring out how video games work in his free time. Folks, that doesn’t cut it.


The other two denials occurred because, frankly, the students did not quite have the grades and scores to be competitive for their schools. It is vitally important to check your school’s Naviance as well as the college’s common data set (available by Googling the name of the college and common data set) to see how you compare with other accepted students. Fortunately, both of these students had other colleges on their lists for which they were well within the accepted students’ range. I believe both will be happy where they ended up.

The mistake some of the above students made was not applying Early Action to a safety, to ensure that alongside their denial, they would have at least one acceptance in hand during the holidays. Even binding or restrictive plans give students other application options that can allow them to receive an early acceptance to a safety.


Amidst those disappointments came a lot of great news. One student applied Early Decision to a medium sized research university for a very specific program. Although her grades and scores fell below the average for that college, her demonstrated interest in the program, personally insightful essay, and strategy to apply ED combined to earn her the fat envelope. But remember, this is not a “Top 20” college.


Among the happiest students over winter break were those who applied broadly but realistically to a healthy balance of reach, match and likely schools. One gem of a young man with decent but not earth-shattering grades and scores was accepted to all but one of the ten colleges to which he applied. Another with straight As heard a lot of “yes,” but heard “no” from his top choices—USC and UCLA. Nevertheless, he ended up with good options. No Ivies on that list.


Admission rates plummeted this year at most of the colleges my students prefer, and there were many surprising results. But one thing wasn’t surprising: every student I worked with ended up with great options. Some are attending their first choice; others are attending what they thought was a back-up. One visited her “back-up” for the first time after not getting many other acceptances, and fell in love. I’ve never believed there’s one best fit college for anyone, but rather many where a student can be happy. I am confident that each of my students is attending a college where they have great potential to grow and thrive. Here, in alphabetical order, is the list of colleges they have chosen to attend.


Biola University

Boston College

Brown University

Cornell University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Gonzaga University

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Orange Coast College

San Jose State University

Smith College

Texas Christian University (4)

Trinity College (Connecticut)

Tulane University

United States Naval Academy

UCLA (3)

UC San Diego

University of Georgia

University of Michigan

University of Richmond (Virginia)

University of San Francisco (Nursing program)

University of Southern California

University of Texas, Austin (3)

University of Washington


Other acceptances include: Arizona State University (Barrett Honors College), University of Arizona, Baylor University, Belmont University, Boston University (including honors college), UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine (honors), UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly SLO, Chapman University, Colorado University Boulder, Lewis and Clark College, Loyola University (Chicago), Marquette University, Northeastern University, University of Oregon, San Diego State University, Southern Methodist University, and more.


I also worked with three high school juniors applying to summer programs. One was admitted to the US Naval Academy’s summer program, another to the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute, and the third to Duke’s Global Technology Entrepreneur program. I’m honored that each of these students has opted to work with me again on their college applications this fall.

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