College Admissions Resources

Based on the Challenge Success survey data of more than 200,000 high school students, we know that the college admissions process can often be a top source of stress and anxiety for students. Rather than accepting that it has to be this way, we encourage students, parents, and educators to pause and reflect on how the college process can be a time for exploration and self-discovery where teens can consider college choices that honor who they are and where they will thrive and be most engaged. The process offers opportunities for students to navigate joys, disappointments, and tough choices, and to practice resilience and independence.   

Research shows that finding a “good fit” college where you can be engaged is more important for student learning, job satisfaction, and well-being than going to a highly ranked school. Here are several resources to support a healthier, more balanced approach to college admissions. Share these widely with students, parents, and educators in your community.


Challenge Success Resources

Share our white paper, A “Fit” Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity, and our 2-minute video with your networks via email and social media. Encourage your school to share the paper and video in their newsletter or website or host a discussion night.

Host a Challenge Success community education workshop for parents, students, and educators: A Healthier Approach to College Admissions.

Read Denise Pope’s blog post for parents, “A Different Kind of College Prep.”

Check out “Ten Tips for Surviving the College Application Process” with practical info for juniors and seniors.

Share Denise Pope’s WSJ article “The Right Way to Choose A College.

Listen to this episode of KQED’s Forum featuring former Challenge Success Research Associate and lead researcher on our white paper, Paul Franz.


General Resources

Here are additional resources to help you and your student discover more about possible colleges. Please consult your school’s college counseling department for a variety of other resources.  

Fairtest.org – a current list of schools that are SAT/ACT optional.

Fiske Guide to Colleges – a comprehensive list of colleges. You can purchase a copy or borrow it from your local library.

Colleges That Change Lives – a college guide with information on lesser-known colleges that have been vetted by a respected college counselor, Loren Pope (no relation to Denise!)

Making Caring Common – a research group out of Harvard’s Education School committed to helping young people make caring and concern for the common good at school, at home, and in our communities a priority. They offer practical tips and resources for families to use during the college admissions process such as Red Flags for Parents—Are You Putting Too Much Pressure on Your Child During the College Admission Process?

How to Raise an Adult  – Julie Lythcott-Haims chronicles the detrimental effects of “overparenting” in high schools, college, and the workplace. She presents ample research to support her thesis and also provides sound replacement strategies that parents can use to build their child’s resilience and confidence. 

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be – The subtitle of Frank Bruni’s book is “An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania,” a nice summation of what this text accomplishes.  No matter what you dream of becoming “when you grow up,” there are hundreds of pathways (and colleges) that can lead you there.

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions – Jeffrey Selingo examines three different admissions offices – a select private university, a liberal arts college, and a flagship public school –  to provide both an intimate look at how admissions decisions get made, as well as offering insights and guidance to prospective students on how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will best serve their interests.

The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together – Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark offer sage advice from both sides of the college process:  high school counselor and college admissions officer.  A book for parents and students with thoughtful exercises that encourage an open and balanced perspective on college fit.

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