The University Network

How To Choose The Right ‘Reach’ College — Interview With Sonali Bridges, Founder And President Of Bridges Educational Consulting

TUN sits down with Sonali Bridges, founder and president of Bridges Educational Consulting, to discuss how you can choose the right “reach” college. 

TUN: Thanks so much for joining us.

BRIDGES: Thanks for having me.

Can you explain what a “reach” school is?

Before I even define that, know that there are “target” schools, “reach” schools and “far-reach” schools. Those of us who are counselors look at it from that perspective.  

When students are applying to college, we make sure that they apply to those three different types of schools. A “target” school is a school where you have at least a 70 percent chance of getting in. A “reach” school is a school where you have a 50 percent chance of getting in. A “far-reach” school is a school where you have a 20 percent chance of getting in. 

How should a student go about determining which “reach” schools are right for them?

The most important thing is that they do their research and try to figure out the best type of school for them.

When creating and crafting that list of schools, whether that be “target,” “reach” or “far-reach,” you want to choose schools that will make you happy not where you fit in, but where you belong. 

For example, if you’re a student from California applying to a UC, make sure that you know what the criteria is for grade point average. Obviously, they aren’t requiring test scores right now. 

But, do you fit with the mission of the school? Is it a place where you can belong? And, also, is it a place that will look at your entire story, holistically, and not just at your grade point average?

If you’re applying to a “reach” school, it has to be a school where you actually meet the criteria. That’s the first important step. Yes, there may be students who are like you, who have the same GPA and same academic profile. But, how you present yourself is the most important piece.  

When choosing a school to put on your list, make sure that it mirrors you as an individual and what your values are. 

How can students improve their chances of being admitted to their “reach” schools? By the time that they’re applying to schools, students can’t really go back and change their GPA and curriculum choices. But, is there anything they can do to improve their chances?

Be authentic. Colleges know if a student wrote their application essay or if somebody else did. You can tell if a student is being disingenuous or just trying to impress the admissions committee. But, you can also tell if a student is really trying to dig deep and answer questions. 

For example, I always tell students, “Put your soul on paper. Does this feel like you? Does it sound like you? Be authentic.”

Don’t spend too much time worrying about explaining and painting the picture of how the sky was blue and the grass was green. Get to the point and tell me, “During this period of time, this is what I did. This is how I did it, and this is why I did it.”

And, when writing those personal statements, it’s really important that you share with the college what you value and what you’re going to bring to that college community. It is key to share that. 

How many “reach” schools or “far-reach” schools should students be applying to?

Some (high) schools tell you that you can only apply to seven or nine schools. At Bridges Educational Consulting, we usually expect students to apply to anywhere between 12 and 15 schools in total. 

To me, an ideal list would have 4-5 schools in each of those sections. You should have an equal amount in each area and be happy with every single school, should you be able to get in.

Some students have perfect GPAs and amazing test scores on their ACTs or SATs. Are any schools “reach” schools for these students?

Yes, they are. The reality is that a lot of students may have perfect GPAs and perfect test scores. 

What’s important to understand is that, sometimes, the admissions decision is not about whether or not you’re worthy of going there. It has everything to do with what the application pool looks like and what the college’s needs are for that particular year.

It’s looking at institutional needs, admissions needs and also who you are as an individual. 

Being able to tell your story authentically will help the admissions offices make sure that you are in alignment with them and that their school is a place where you will thrive and be able to contribute. 

Thanks, Sonali, for joining us today.  

Thank you for having me. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.