Most teens will tell you that making the college list is one of the most stressful times in their life. It’s a process that begins with a little bit of knowing what you like, what your goals are, and that intuition that every student takes to the table. Knowing yourself, your likes, and your dislikes will help you in the process.
There’s a theory among teens and many parents, which says, “The more colleges you apply to, the better your chances.” In theory it makes sense, but there are other things to consider besides hedging your bets with numbers.
Three Considerations When Applying to College
1. The Cost
College applications can be time-consuming and pricey, costing as much as $100 per application, unless you get the fees waived by the school or an organization. Ten schools at $100 each is $1,000. These application fees are non-refundable and aren’t applied toward your total cost of attendance. Although this should not be the only factor in determining the number of applications submitted, it should be considered.
2. The Time
Applying to college takes a tremendous amount of time, and each college has their own specific application criteria. The average college application usually takes about two hours to complete, not including writing the essay. Common sense dictates that the more applications you have to complete and collate, the less time you will spend on each individual application. The applications are your way of communicating who you are to a college—it’s not the time to spread yourself thin to rack up the numbers.
3. Quality vs. Quantity
Allen Grove, an admissions expert in the About.com College Admissions Guide, thinks it’s a little ridiculous when students apply to a dozen or more colleges. He can’t imagine how the student visited all those campuses, in addition to doing extensive research, and then decided that many schools were good matches.
“You see students who apply to every single Ivy League,” Grove says. “I just have to wonder if the student who is going to like Columbia (in New York City) is really going to like Dartmouth (located in a town of around 11,000 people). I find that unlikely, so I often think students who are sending out that many applications haven’t done their research.”
How Many is Too Many?
Most admissions officers generally advise students to apply to about five to seven colleges, but no more than 10. That includes a couple of safety schools (schools you’ll no doubt get into), a couple of match schools (schools you meet the requirements for), and a couple of reach schools (schools that are less likely to accept you).
In a Huffington Post article, Maura Kastberg, Executive Director of Student Services of RSC Your College Prep Expert, concurs with that advice. “There may be 20 colleges you want to attend, or you could have your heart set on just one. When you are applying to college, be practical. Most students should apply to somewhere between five to seven colleges. There are no guarantees that you will be accepted to the school you desire, but you should have a good idea about your chances of admission to each school.”
What Are the Criteria?
If you’ve done a thoughtful job when compiling your list, you should be able to answer the following questions (provided by Carolyn Lawrence of AdmissionsAdvice.com and contributing author to the College Admission Book blog):
1. Can I explain why all of the colleges on my list are right for me?
If your answers to this question are superficial—such as rankings, prestige, location, or a friend’s suggestion—it’s likely your list is too long. Before you add any college to your list, you should be able to explain how the college aligns with the things you personally need to be happy and successful in college.
2. Will I have enough time and energy to put my best effort into every application?
Even the simplest applications require time and effort. Can you really handle the work involved in completing 15 or 20 applications? Be honest with yourself. It’s better to do an outstanding job on fewer applications than to do a so-so job on too many.
3. Do I love my “safe bets” as much as I love my “reaches?”
Build your college list from the bottom up; fall in love with the schools that are most likely to love you in return before you add colleges that are less likely to admit you. If you do, you’re apt to find that you really don’t need to apply to as many colleges as you think you do. Finally, don’t let fear sway you into panic mode.If you’ve carefully thought about the reasons why every college is on your list, and do your best job with each application, you’ll end up with great choices!
Even with all the right information, facts, and figures in place, choosing a college is more than just a list on a piece of paper. Most students will tell you that they just “knew” when they set foot on campus they knew it was right for them.
In an article for The New York Times, Jordanna Suriani, an admissions counselor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, writes that students who apply to several colleges because they’re undecided are doing themselves a disfavor come April when it’s time to make a decision. Once you get that acceptance letter, you have even less time to make a choice.
Ms. Suriani advises, “Figure out what you need and want now, and apply to schools which offer you most, if not all of it. Forget about trying to get as many acceptances as possible to places that don’t speak to you. Trust me. Come April, you’ll be glad you did.”