Holderness School

6 Tips for Finding the Right College

Greg Kwasnik
‘Tis the season for all things college: application deadlines, early admissions decisions, and generalized higher education anxiety. Luckily, we have Bruce Barton to put things into perspective for us.
As Holderness School’s director of college counseling, Bruce lives and breathes the college admissions process. Here, he shares a few of the most important insights he’s gleaned over three successful decades sending Holderness students to college. There won’t be a quiz at the end of this, but you’ll still want to take notes.
1.     Focus on Fit, Not Name
Getting into an Ivy League school is impressive, but it’s not a guarantee of future success. “There is no known data to suggest that the selectivity of the college you go to correlates to workplace engagement or general wellbeing,” Bruce says. Instead of just focusing on highly-selective schools, students should search for a school that’s a good fit rather than a big name. That means finding a college that best matches your academic and extracurricular interests – Ivy League or not.  “We try to tell students and parents that your future is in your hands,” Bruce says. “No school is going to make you. You’re going to make yourself, and you’ve got the skills to do it.”

2.     Decide What’s Important to You
Do you love the outdoors, or do you dream of living in the city? Do you plan to study abroad, or major in computer science? Whatever your plans are, choose a college that will meet your needs. And while academics are certainly important, be sure to consider other aspects of the colleges you’re considering – their locations, clubs, and extracurriculars. Those are the intangibles that may just define your college experience. “It’s the opportunities outside the class – with professors, with people, with research and interning possibilities - that make the difference,” Barton says.

3.     Diversify Your (Admissions) Portfolio
Should you apply to two schools or 22? Ideally, you should aim for somewhere in between. “If a parent were to ask me what the perfect sweet spot is, I would say eight to 12 max,” Bruce says. For the best chance of admissions success, don’t just apply to the most selective schools. If you apply to eight schools, two should be ‘Far Reach’ schools with acceptance rates below 20%; two should be ‘Reach’ schools that admit 20 to 25% of applicants; and two should be ‘Possible’ schools where your student profile is in line with the school’s published admissions data. The remaining two applications should go to ‘Likely’ schools where you stand a high chance of acceptance.

4.     Focus on Building Confidence
Wherever you go to college, put yourself in situations where you’ll learn, grow, and succeed. “Students who have confidence and whose confidence is growing are going to be more successful in college, more successful in graduate school if they decide to go forward to graduate school, and more successful in the workplace,” Bruce says. This can be difficult for students at highly-selective colleges where competition can limit the availability of all kinds of opportunities and programs. “Confidence is a key piece to this puzzle,” Bruce says. “Far too often I think people overlook the importance of a student’s self-confidence in the race to get into the most selective school.”

5.     Take The Long View
Didn’t get into the college of your dreams? That’s ok. There’s a good chance you’ll love the school you did get into – and transferring is always an option if you become unhappy. And then there’s graduate school. Research shows that more and more Holderness students will end up going to graduate school, and your graduate school degree often carries more weight than where you went as an undergraduate. “The data here is clear: graduate schools accept the top students from wherever they’re applying from,” Bruce says. “If you look at graduate schools and where their populations are coming from, it’s a broad swath of colleges and universities.” The takeaway: study hard, wherever you go to school.  

6.     Seize The Day
Holderness graduates are uniquely prepared to make the most of their college experience – wherever that happens to be. Holderness grads are independent, can manage their time well, and know how to embrace new opportunities and experiences. A successful college student will need to do all of these things – and more.  “Holderness’s value proposition, in my opinion, is our students are ready to seize the opportunities on day one of college in ways that other students aren’t,” Bruce says.

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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257