Is a reach school your best choice?

By Randi Mazzella

After a long college search and grueling application process, getting into a reach school can be very satisfying. But before sending in that deposit, consider these five things to help determine whether a reach school is truly the best choice for you.

1. Is the financial aid package competitive?

With the high cost of college tuition, finances are a critical part of the decision. Because schools have limited financial aid resources, it stands to reason that they offer it to students they want most. While you may qualify for some need- and merit-based financial aid at a reach school, you may not receive as much as a less selective school would offer. Make sure you thoroughly explore your options and carefully compare your financial aid packages before making your final decision.

2. Will you be academically competitive?

From internships to workshops to research projects and more, there are many academic opportunities available beyond the classroom, some of which can be highly competitive. If you attend a school where you're considered a top student, you are more likely to be accepted into selective programs. The experience you receive and the academic accomplishments on your transcript may carry more weight than the school you attended.

3. Competition isn't for everyone

College can be very stressful. While some students thrive when they are required to compete with their peers, for others constantly worrying about how they measure up may be overwhelming and have an adverse effect on grades as well as emotional and mental health. If you've been accepted to a reach school, chances are you're more than qualified to do the work. But depending on your temperament, the pressure of intense competition may just not be for you.

4. Is there a healthy school-fun balance?

College is more than just attending classes. There are social events, sports, clubs, Greek life, and a host of other activities available on college campuses. You should ask yourself if the amount of work necessary to succeed academically will offer you enough opportunity to maintain a healthy balance and explore other rewarding experiences.

5. Do you like the feel of the campus?

No matter what you hear or read, nothing can take the place of first-hand experience. If possible, try to personally visit each school you're seriously interested in. Spending a day or two exploring the campus, talking to students, and meeting instructors may teach you more about a school than anything you can find online.

Getting into your first-choice college can be a dream come true. But the most prestigious school isn't necessarily the best one for your particular needs. Choosing the right college is about finding a balance between what a school offers and what you need to thrive personally, academically, and financially. If you're willing to make the effort, you can create opportunities anywhere.

About the author

Randi Mazzella

Randi is a freelance writer and mother of three. She has written extensively about teen life and the college admissions process. Her work has appeared online and in print publications including TeenLife, Your Teen, Raising Teens,, and Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.