How Many Is Too Many?
By the summer between junior and senior years, most high school students have generated the list of colleges that they would like to apply to. Some have even finished their campus visits and are just waiting for the applications to come online. Others may just be getting started and wonder if they will find enough colleges they like by August, when application season begins. So how do you decide how many college applications to complete? Is it possible to fill out too few, or even too many? The answer to these questions, of course, depends.
If you are among those who decide to apply to only 3 or 4 schools, you may be risking not getting into a college of your choice. With around 4,000 accredited institutions of higher education in the U.S., the chances are high that there are several schools that will have the academic, social, extracurricular, geographic and student body characteristics you are looking for. You will have already heard of some of these colleges. Others, you will discover through some well-focused research.
To avoid gambling with your future by applying to too few schools, you will want to take the following steps to create an appropriate list:
• First, spend time on weekends and school breaks fleshing out what it is you want in a college experience. Think about the academic, social, and financial elements that fit who you are and then build your list from there. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Steven Antonoff’s book, College Match: A Blueprint for Finding the Best School for You.
• Second, identify schools across the selectivity spectrum that match your values. Do not limit your search to only the most selective schools in the country or to the ones that your best friends are applying to. Even if you have straight A’s and a 700 on each section of the S.A.T., you are not guaranteed a spot in the Ivy League. As such, develop a list of reach, target, and safety schools, so that you’re not left taking an unplanned for gap year after high school. Some great online resources for expanding your college options include the College Board’s Big Future, College Data, and College Prowler.
If you are on the opposite end of the application spectrum and decide to apply to dozens of colleges, not only will you overstretch your resources, but you will also risk burning out during senior year. Before completing any university’s application, you should ask yourself, “Do I really see myself being happy there?” If the answer is “no” or even a hesitant “maybe,” push that paperwork off to the side, and focus on the applications you truly care about. Not only will you produce a better product by not rushing through the details, but it will also be much easier to convince the admissions committee that you are genuinely interested in their school. Don’t forget that, while applying to college is one of the most important tasks you will complete during your senior year of high school, it is not the only one. You will need to continue focusing on maintaining or improving your G.P.A., participating in your extracurricular activities, and of course making time for friends and family.
So how many schools should you apply to? According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (N.A.C.A.C.) 2011 report, “State of College Admission,” 77% of the Class of 2014 submitted 3 or more applications, while 25% submitted 7 or more. With those statistics in mind, you should ideally aim to identify 6 to 10 colleges that you would be interested in attending. 2 to 3 schools should fall into each of the reach and safety zones, while 2 to 4 should fall into the target category. By conducting such a focused search, your enthusiasm will shine through and you will ensure that, come Spring, good news arrives in your inbox!