college lists

The most recent episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation was guest hosted by Ian Fisher. In three fast-moving segments Ian and his guests covered a vast array of topics, from using data to estimate a student’s chances of admission, to tips and tricks for selecting your major on the college application, to deciphering the loan portion of financial aid packages.

Using Data to Create a College List

The first segment was all about using statistics, numbers, and admissions data in crafting the list of colleges to which you apply. Emily Toffelmire, admissions expert, joined Ian for this segment, sharing her professional experience as both a former admissions officer and high school counselor. First, the duo shared where to obtain your data, specifically addressing the reasons why they avoided sites like College Confidential “like the plague.” They went on to discuss a variety of topics related to chancing admission and building out your college list. For example, what does an admit rate have to do with your chances of gaining admission—is it the probability you’ll be admitted or something else? Additionally, if you can’t use admit rate to predict your chances of admission, what should you use instead? Emily and Ian also made phenomenal recommendations for creating balanced lists. For example, they discussed the pros and cons of creating “challenge-heavy” and “safety-heavy” lists. They also shared how a “balanced list” might look different from student to student and family to family.

Majors, Minors, and Programs of Study

Building on the first segment admissions expert Julia Jones joined Ian to discuss how the major or academic area of interest you indicate on your application does (and does not!) affect your chances of admission. One of the most common questions we receive is, “Does applying undecided hurt my chances of admission?” In this segment, Julia laid the question to rest, providing a thorough and definitive answer. She went on to share how, when asked to pick specific school or division within a college to apply to, to know if that choice matters to the admissions office. Her answer—to look to the application—provided unique insights that even surprised our formidable host, Ian! Tune in to hear the answers. Finally, Ian and Julia both shared strategies for crafting an application list when you are applying to specialized programs that may be more competitive than the “general admission” pool at the same institution (for example, business, engineering, computer science, dual-degree programs [BS/MD, 3-2 Engineering, etc.], and the performing or visual arts).

Loans in Financial Aid Packages

In the final segment—our recurring college finance segment—Tara Piantanida-Kelly, finance expert, joined Ian to discuss loan packaging and borrowing money to attend college. While many families think of scholarships and grants when they think of financial aid, most financial aid packages also include some variety of loan. The loan process can be very confusing, as colleges and universities can offer families a variety of different types of loans, borrowed by students or parents, and from public, private, or institutional sources. Tara did an impressive job of not only breaking down this confusing topic, but also helping families think about the “end-results” of borrowing—total loan amount, average interest rates, projected earnings, and budgeting to pay back the loans.

As mentioned, this was a truly jam-packed episode—tune in to hear the full answers to these questions and topics!


Written by Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Abigail received her bachelor’s in sociology from Colby College. Prior to joining College Coach, Abigail worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College and Emma Willard School. Visit our website to learn more about Abigail Anderson.