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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Segment #5 on College Selection: Making the Initial List of Colleges. A Guide to Build a Standout US College Application.

Episode summary introduction: Segment #5 of the 10-Segment Podcast Series to help students in 11th Grade build standout US College Applications. This segment tells students how to make the Initial List of Colleges in order to reach the best possible outcomes. Subscribe for Assignments.

In this segment, Athena Lao and Nick Wyville of Admissionado lead us through the discussion.

In particular, we discuss the following:

  • What is “Funneling”?
  • What is Echelon?
  • Building the Initial “My Colleges” List
  • How to Explore Colleges

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to Segment #5 [1:08]
  • General Principles for College Selection [6:07]
  • “Funneling” to Make the List [10:35]
  • What is Echelon? [11:59]
  • Sorting Colleges [12:38]
  • How many Colleges to apply to?  [15:07]
  • Applying “Filters” [16:19]
  • Dealing with Family Pressures [20:00]
  • Building “My Colleges” list [21:56]
  • Steps to Explore Colleges [23:30]
  • Call 2 Action - Subscribe for Assignments [26:53]

Our Guests: 

Memorable Quote: “The process is a funnel. Expand your horizons and then begin to narrow down...”, Nick Wyville on the College Selection’s process.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Jemmy Chayadi  0:12

I chose UW Madison because it had a good Academic Ranking. It was, it is one of the best public schools in the US.

But the other thing that attracted me personally, at that time was because there was already an existing group of Indonesian students in that time.

Okay, so through the word of mouth and and they, some of them came back to say like during their winter holiday and all that, they came back the days they spoke and shared the experience in with the high school students.

So I was one of them who, who heard about the UW Madison for the first time was, so that, that kind of drove me to start applying for some schools.

Venkat  1:08  [Introduction to  Segment #5]

You just heard Jemmy Chayadi, graduate of the University of Wisconsin Madison tell us how he started building his initial college list.

Today, you will learn How to go about making an Initial List of Colleges to consider applying to.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

This is the 5th Segment of our 10-Segment Podcast series - A Guide to Build a Standout US College Application.

As you may remember in Segment #4 on “What to Write in a College Essay?”, we learned about Substantiating Narrative.


So, Here’s a Pop Quiz based on Segment #4. Listen to this and we will talk on the other side:

Rob Franklin  2:02

So within the substantiating narratives, there are really four buckets that I want you to think about. So the first,

Venkat Raman  2:09

Ok. Rob is talking about the 4 buckets that make up the Substantiating Narrative. We want you to tell us what the First Bucket is.

The first 10 Correct answers will receive a FREE 30-min Counseling session over Google Meet.

Email your answer to “podcast at almamatters.io”, with the Subject: College Essay. Good Luck!


Now, on with Segment #5.

There are over 5000 US Colleges. As a high schooler, it can be daunting trying to figure out which colleges to apply to.

Over the years, students and parents have come up with various ways of overcoming this challenge and picking colleges to apply to. Here are a few:

  • Shotgun Approach: Colleges are picked at random based on maybe college names, varied criteria, etc.
  • Word of mouth: Students hear about a college from a role model or relative. This college then becomes the center of their college process, and a few other schools thrown in as backups.
  • Proximity: Colleges in the city or state the student lives in. A variation of that may be the colleges close to student’s relatives.
  • Ranking: Listen to what Sibi Venkatesan, a graduate of UC Berkeley from India has to say about how he chose colleges to apply to.

Sibi Venkatesan  3:55

The criterion is fairly simple. I think for a lot of people in India, I think we in general, it's a little unfortunate sometimes. But it's a rat race for the best named engineering school even in India, the IDs and such.

So yeah, the ranking is, using a ranking as a, as a criterion for choosing is the common and that was what we looked at we applied to the top programs for Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

Venkat Raman  4:21

Now, the Right Question is “How to pick colleges that are right for you?”

To answer this question, you have to take an approach, I will call “Funneling”, whereby you can systematically & iteratively refine the list of Colleges to arrive at a bunch of colleges that would be right for you,

combined with  the concept of, what Admissionado calls, Echelons, to identify the Colleges that would put you in the best position for future success.

In this Segment we will address

  • What is “Funneling”? What is Echelon?
  • Building “My Colleges” List to Explore
  • Tools to help build that list

Let’s jump right in with our experts from Admissionado

  • Athena Lao, Head Mentor at Admissionado, and
  • Nick Wyville, Mentor at Admissionado.

Venkat Raman  5:23

So Athena and Nick, welcome to the podcast again. In the case of Nick, welcome to the podcast your way. Thank you. Hope it's an enjoyable one for you as well.

Okay, so today we are going to talk about selecting colleges or, in fact, actually just making lists first before we actually pick one. So there are lots of colleges and students have lots of needs and requirements. So Tina, maybe you can kick it off by telling us what some general principles might be in looking for colleges.

Athena Lao  6:07  [General Principles for College Selection]

Sure, Venkat! Thank you. I am excited to talk about this with Nick, because the school selection process can be one of the most fun parts of all of this. But I understand that can also be extremely overwhelming if you don't do it strategically.

So fortunately, we're here to tell you how to go about this strategically. And to do that we have some principles that we live by your admission nado so that you're really optimizing the time that you have in doing this.

So I think the first thing I want to say before we start out is that our goal so at the end of this particular podcast episode, we're going to help you create an initial emphasis on initial and more manageable list of schools and understand the steps you need to take. So you can do a deep dive and do a lot more research on them and optimize that process.

The first principle that I want to say for this is to remember that the school selection process is iterative, you may have heard this word before iterative. And by that we mean in the beginning, you're going to have certain ideas about what makes a school a good fit for you, your parents or grandparents, everyone you've ever talked to you in your life might say, these are the best schools for you, and you're going off that, but those ideas are, they may or may not change during this whole process. And you want everyone to be open to that, as you do research. As you learn about different schools, your ideas will change. And that is completely okay. That is a great thing. That is how this is supposed to be.

The second thing we want you to remember is that you'll remember from past episodes, we've always talked about this idea of future success, that when you're applying to colleges, you have to remember that what they're looking for are students who are best able to articulate their potential for future success, and make the best use of resources at that school and succeed in life and beyond. So by that same token, the purpose of college for you as a student is that you get access to the resources and learning experiences that help you get closer to fulfilling whatever your vision for future success looks like. So the college that you ultimately end up going to should help you become the best version of yourself beyond what you could have possibly imagined. That goes back to our idea of this process being iterative, the things that you think, make the school a perfect fit for you now, those actually might not end up being the criteria, that that lead you to understand what schools actually best for you.

A lot of times when people go through this process, you know, they're filtering potential colleges based on these extremely narrow sets of criteria that actually don't matter, and might actually even hinder you from achieving your full potential for future success. So here at Admissionado, we, you're going to give you a process that Nick is going to go into more detail about that helps you avoid that problem.

So instead of getting hyper focused on what makes the perfect list, and you know, getting very caught up in, okay, well, I have to have this number of schools and they have to be this kind of thing. We really want you to expand rather than narrow the schools that you look at. And when you get to the part where you're accepted by the schools you end up applying to, that's when you can really get in the weeds. So a lot of times people focus on filtering first on narrowing and going from there, what we're going to tell you to do is to kind of expand or we're going to help you sort of narrow in a smart way.

And then expand your thinking and then go from there to understand what you should research. We like to think of this process as a funnel. So you're going to we know that there are 1000s of schools out there that you're starting to look at. You might not Have no idea how you can get that to more reasonable number.

And the way that we do this is we'll use some simple criteria. Some benchmarks that help you understand here are a set of schools that are more reasonable that, you know, kind of makes sense for me at this point of time to look at. And then we'll walk you through the steps to go through from there.

Venkat Raman  10:24  

Nick, tell us how we go about starting to get some lists together.

Nick Wyville  10:35  [“Funneling” to Make the List]

Yeah, gladly. Thank you, Athena for that great primer, I'm also happy to be on for the first time. So excited for the students to learn some more. So yeah, as Athena was talking about, this process is a funnel, expand your horizons and then begin to narrow down before really making any concrete decisions. At Admissionado at the end of the day, we want every student to get into the best possible school. And that's our mindset.

Nick Wyville  11:07

And to do that, we have a strategy of grouping schools buy what we call Echelons. And, you know, out of the 5000, plus schools even more, we've got to help you find the best possible school and that's a really, really hard process when you have that many to choose from.

But this Echelon process is pretty straightforward. You benchmark your competitiveness based on a few criteria. GPA is the main one and other normal years, usually pre COVID. There was also the SAT, the ACT that were used to benchmark as well. And these types of criteria are going to give students a degree of confidence that a student will match a certain Echelon or certain bracket of school.

Nick Wyville  11:59   [What is Echelon?]

Okay, what is a certain Echelon? And the best way to describe it is just the example. Echelon one the top echelon is going to be Harvard, it's going to be yell, Stanford, MIT other really top tier schools. Echelon three, for example, maybe the University of Michigan,  Tufts other really amazing schools, but are maybe better targets for a larger array of students. And then the bottom Echelon, Echelon Five is like most other schools, that you can really name schools that maybe are in your communities, schools that have massive student populations, etc.

Nick Wyville  12:38  [Sorting Colleges]

So, keeping these echelons in mind, let's talk about them in relationship to how you should apply and how you should sort them.

So a lot of students may have heard of reach match safety, or we also can call a dream target. And likely, I know that's a lot of words just off the bat. But when students are applying we, we typically want them to think about their applications in terms of these three different tiers of reach, match, and safety.

These are the three different categories of schools that you either have a pretty good chance of getting into, it's going to be harder to get into, or you're almost likely, almost certain to get into.

So using our Echelons using our process of benchmarking, we encourage students to get their GPA to look at their test scores, some other factors that can really vary to compare it to each particular college.

So the test scores that you're in the 50th percentile, that's going to be a match, that means that you have a pretty good chance of getting it and that is your target school. That's what you were you really think you can be competitive.

And let's say for you, that's Echelon two, Echelon two is where you really think that's the target school for you. Next is the 25th percentile, which is tougher if your target is Echelon, too. So that means that your reach school schools that are going to be harder to again get into, but you still think you're competitive. That's reach and that's going to be where your GPA, your test scores are in the 25th percentile.

And on the other end of that spectrum, is our safety schools. So our safety schools are going to be maybe Echelon three where you think you have a really, really good chance of getting into I think safety school is probably the term that most students have heard of, you know, I'm applying to Harvard, but my safety is the University of Alabama. That's typically a conversation or a phrase you hear from students and that is going to be where you're in the 75th percentile so you're going to be a really high achiever at a safety school.

Nick Wyville  15:07  [How many Colleges to apply to?]

Okay, I understand this, I understand Echelons I understand reach match safety. But how many should I apply to? Should I reach every school in Echelon one, should I aim for 15 different safety schools, it's a great question.

At Admissionado we typically encourage students to apply to at least three to five schools in each separate category, reach match and safety. Or we can even say epsilon one, epsilon two, epsilon three, if that's where you placed yourself within those brackets. The fewer schools you're applying to, the riskier your chances of admission are going to be just because math is not quite on our side.

However, the more schools means the higher chance you have of getting in, because it just increases your likelihoods throughout this entire process. You can truly look and think about applying to anywhere between 30 to 60 schools.

So that's why it's really important to use our process of benchmarking to use our Echelons to narrow down the search to all of the different schools that a student will apply to, because at the end of the day, you cannot apply to 5000 schools, you have to narrow down.

Nick Wyville  16:19  [Applying “Filters”]

The next we're going to talk about a lot of different filters, you have to, we have to filter through.

After identifying your Echelons, identifying your your reach target safety, we have to break them down. And there are a lot of factors here. There's lots of terminology, but we want to keep it simple want to keep it straightforward.

And we know that one major thing that students think about throughout this process as their major. It's like such an important step. Everyone's thinking about it. Am I going to study government? Am I going to study engineering? Am I going to study pre med? What am I going to study? And it's such an important question. Oftentimes you either know or you don't know.

And both are completely fine. undecided students have a lot of room to explore. And students that even think they know what they want to study, they could still change their mind in their first year of college. And that's great. And we encourage that we encourage that exploration. So we encourage students to just be familiar with all of the different majors that a school offers. If you are interested in studying business, or if you're interested in studying government, then it's probably not the best choice to narrow down your list to California Technical Institute or MIT, because these different schools specialize in, say engineering and computer science, whereas you may want to study something completely different that there's very little emphasis on these other schools.

Nick Wyville  17:53

Next filter that I want to talk about is really quick, really brief, there are lots of different types of schools. There are liberal arts schools, there are state schools, there are private schools and public schools. And this is just something to be aware of throughout the application process. This shouldn't convince a student one way or another whether or not to apply because remember, at the end of the day, what we're doing here is we are funneling down our list. We're not creating the three schools, the three most specific programs you want to attend, we are expanding our horizons. And we're understanding what there is to offer before making the decisions about how and when to apply. But just keep in mind that there are different types of schools that have different types of programs. Some schools have a focus on the arts, some have a focus on engineering, some on business. And along with those academic programs that different schools offer, there are also so many other factors that students keep in mind. Everyone goes through it, everyone imagines their perfect college experience, they imagine what it looks like they imagine what it feels like. You see it in the movies, you read about it. And a lot of those factors really are the standout factors for a lot of students that we are going to classify as environmental factors. You know, you have that specific college experience in mind.

Nick Wyville  19:20

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, can I see myself here? And those factors include geography like where are you? Do you want to live somewhere big, somewhere small?

What size of school? Do you want to go to big or small? Are you going to play sports? Are you going to participate in music? Do you want to go to a single sex school or co Ed school?

All these students, excuse me, all these characteristics are so important. But at the end of the day, remember, we have to think about where each student is going to have their most success, where their most potential is going to come out.

Nick Wyville  20:00  [Dealing with Family Pressures]

And lastly, for our filtering process of looking for schools, as we know that, when you're applying, when you're thinking about applying, there are lots of pressures. And every student navigates those pressures differently. There's pressure from family, there's pressure from school guidance counselors and teachers and so many external actors, that we just want to make sure that every student understands how involved they want their outer circle, or their inner circle to be in this process. Sometimes you need support, and sometimes students really want to do it on their own.

Venkat Raman  20:43  

Here is Jay Jacobs, Vice Provost of enrollment management at the University of Vermont.

Jay Jacobs  20:54  

You know, in, in at the University of Miami, we knew that we weren't for everybody. And students would walk across campus and hear four different languages and, you know, live in a really international place like Miami, but, that, that isn't for for everybody.

And on the flip side, here in Burlington, right, this kind of, this kind of experience isn't isn't for everybody, either. So I'm not, you know, we at the University of Vermont know, we're we're probably not competing with the University of Miami for the same types of students. And they, and they similarly feel the same about the students that we attract at UVM, I'm sure.

Venkat Raman  21:38  

Okay, Nick, you've laid out the landscape, all the wonderful parameters that go into making up a college list and the colleges. Now how can a student, a listener now actually build a list that they can start exploring?

Nick Wyville  21:56  [Building “My Colleges” list]

Yeah, absolutely. So as you said, we laid out all the factors and this is the homework for the student, right? How can you go about building your own list?

  • So Step 1, what we encourage students to do is build an initial shortlist using the all matters tool, and put your GPA, figure out where you stand and how you fit into the different colleges that this tool will provide you with. It's great, also linked into the podcast.
  • Step 2, after building that initial shortlist, we're going to use the Echelon list also linked into the podcast to determine what your reach your match and your safety are going to be.
  • So now that you've overlaid these two different lists, you're going to be able to then proceed to Step 3, which is doing research using the various different factors we mentioned, such as major, such as environment and please feel free to rewind this podcast and listen to my voice talk about all these different factors again [Note: factors are also available when you do the Assignment], and this step will really help you understand what some of these potential colleges have to offer the colleges that fit into your shortlist and, and comply with the echelons that you've got that you've you've set for yourself. These different factors will help narrow that search down.

Venkat Raman  23:30  [Steps to Explore Colleges]

How to Explore?

Now that you have an initial list of colleges here is some guidance on how you may want to go about learning more about a college. These will be available in the transcript for this podcast as well on the Assignment page.

  1. Begin with the various college factors/attributes listed in the My College Template as columns and decide which ones are important to you. Use this to note down your findings/comments.
  2. College History and Background - wikipedia
  3. Take a virtual campus tour to see how you like the feel
  4. Personal Alumni Experiences - Podcasts
  5. Visit College Website - and look for the different factors in item #1 that you care about
  6. Check out Quora to see what kinds of discussions/questions/comments about the college.
  7. Ask Alumni questions that you might have
  8. Try to capture your overall impressions about the college. Can you see yourself there? If not, why not?

For your convenience, a number of these resources are provided under  Colleges on almamatters.io.

Good Luck!

Venkat Raman  25:12

Here is Sanjeet Rangarajan, a graduate of Vanderbilt University in Biomedical Engineering,

Sanjeet Rangarajan  25:21  

You know, the opportunity to really do some fact finding and really try to understand what it is that they want. And so I think all of the information is out there, you know, like things like this podcast [College Matters. Alma Matters.], university websites, social media, people can learn a lot about, you know, what's out there and what they can, you know, what they can have available to them.

But I think it's important to also ask students to be honest with themselves and not necessarily take the instruction of, you know, you know, parents or peers are looking what other people are done, people need to understand what it is that makes that motivates them and what they really want to do in life and also be open to the chance that those desires and plans may change over time as you learn more.


Venkat  26:16

Hi again!

Hope you liked Segment #5 of the Podcast Series and found it useful.

In this Segment on College Selection - The Initial List, we discussed systematic and iterative approach that included:

  • What is “Funneling”? What is Echelon?
  • Using that approach to Build “My Colleges” List to Explore

As mentioned earlier, based on this Segment we have an assignment for students in the 11th standard/grade. You can get our Counselors feedback on your assignments.

Venkat  26:53   [Call to Action - Subscribe for Assignments]

Now, You have to Subscribe to get the assignments.

It’s easy To Subscribe.

Just email to podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io] with the Subject: Assignments.

We will send you an email with instructions on the assignments.

As before,

Here’s a great deal for you:

Submit your Completed Assignments before our next Segment is published,

AND you will get a FREE review by Our Counselors.

So, hurry up!

And by the way, if you missed the previous Segments, get on it. It will get harder to catch up as we keep moving forward!

Venkat  30:04

This series is for high school students in their 11th Grade/Standard and who plan to apply to US Colleges at the end of this year.

This series is being created in collaboration with Admissionado, a US-based college counseling company.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Thank you again for listening to this podcast.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

US Colleges, College Admissions, College Selection, College Alumni, College Matters Alma Matters, Podcast, Quora, Virtual Campus Tours, Reach Schools, Safety Schools, Match Schools, Exploring Colleges, Majors, Echelon, Create My Colleges, My Colleges, Vanderbilt University, University of California, University of California Berkeley, SAT, ACT, University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin Madison, Counselors, Admissions Officers.

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