Although college may seem like a far-away concept for many high school juniors, the optimal time to begin the college application process is in the spring. One task that can be easily accomplished before the CommonApp even opens in August is to write a personal statement. Getting this one looming task done eliminates the stress of trying to write it during the hectic fall semester of senior year when you’re still narrowing your college list, focusing on keeping up your grades and still participating in extracurricular activities.

The prompts never change dramatically, so take a peek at the 2022-2023 prompts and begin thinking about them. Allow yourself time to really reflect on each; maybe even free-write a few sentences in response to each prompt. What do you want the schools to know about you? How will you show them your strengths?

Use this reflective essay with a maximum word count of 650 to strongly show who you are. If you begin in the spring and give yourself time, you will be able to strategically craft an interesting, vivid personal statement.

By the way, this is the optimal time for high school sophomores to begin a strategic plan for applicaitons. We recommend not waiting until the last minute scramble entering senior year.


We at A Starting Line love data, and we analyze all kinds of data to help our clients be strategic in college planning. But, it is very important that we are selective in what data we take into account and how we incorporate it into our strategy.  

Some of the publicly available data that you may be familiar with include US News and World Report rankings and Naviance (if your child’s high school subscribes to this tool).

A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Why Don’t Elite Colleges Expand Supply?” finds that top colleges care more about prestige as measured against their peers than any other factor when it comes to setting their enrollment numbers.

The four colleges that appear at the top of the annual U.S. News rankings—Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale (HPSY)—increased their enrollment by only 7% even as their applications skyrocketed, especially as the schools have gone ‘test optional’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past 40 years, the freshman class at Yale has increased by only 14 seats; however, the number of applications has increased 300%, from 9,331 in 1979 to 30,932 in 2015. For the Class of 2021, 32,900 students applied to Yale.

This is not unique to Yale. In fact, the top 20 schools have found ways to increase their number of applicants while at the same time keeping enrollment constant over the years. This is how prestigious schools lower their yields, thus making the school seem more prestigious. The lower the yield, the higher the school sits on some of the most well-known ranking lists.

What does this mean for your student?

We like to say that the top 20 schools are ‘lottery’ schools. Even if Naviance indicates that, based on your child’s test scores and GPA, they are plotted on the Naviance scattergram into Harvard or UChicago, the likelihood of admittance is extremely low.

Scattergrams give data points for each student from a specific high school who has applied to a particular college in the past few years. The data points represent the students’ standardized test scores and GPAs based on your school’s scale. The points also indicate whether the student was admitted, waitlisted, or denied at a particular school. 

The key words here are “data points”. This data is collected from the school over the course of several years, therefore making the data old.

Another point to consider is that if 43 students from your child’s school apply to a lottery school, from the school’s perspective, only a very small percentage from the school will be admitted, assuming that they even qualify, because the university wants a well-rounded freshman class.

We always suggest a variety of schools since not every top tier college is well-suited for a particular student. We want to ensure that a student will find their course of study at a school that is a ‘just right fit’ for them