One of the statements we hear most frequently from parents and students applying to college is “You don’t get in if you don’t apply.” It’s tough to argue with that. There are thousands of colleges and universities in the US, and if you don’t apply to any of them, you won’t have anywhere to go next year. But how many places are you going to attend? And how much time and energy do you really want to sink into applying to places that just aren’t that high on your list?
Every year in December, we send out a Year in Review to all of our counselors. A lot of the questions are fun inside jokes, or a chance to give a public shout-out to a colleague who helped you in a pinch or who always seemed ready to tackle a new challenge. But a few of the questions have to do with our students (anonymously, of course.) They include questions like “Best sentence from an essay,” “Funniest line from a meeting,” and other things that make us smile and give us a laugh heading into the holidays. But one of the questions is “Most colleges applied to by a single student.” This year’s winner, if you want to call it that: 28. What’s more, almost every counselor had at least one student who decided to apply to over 20 different schools. That’s a lot of time and money spent on application fees just because “You don’t get in if you don’t apply.”
So for juniors who are currently going through the college search process, try framing the question a little bit differently. As your senior friends get their admission decisions back and start to narrow down the list of places to do their final visits, ask them how many places they are actually considering. Then ask them how many places they applied to. The difference between those numbers? Hours of wasted time and effort, probably brought on by the philosophy that “You don’t get in if you don’t apply.”
Realistically speaking, most of the students we work with apply to about 8-12 colleges. That’s really the number you’re looking at if you want to have a good balance, with a couple of safeties, a handful of targets you’re excited about, and a few reaches to hope for. But if you’re a junior whose college list currently has 15, 20, even 30 schools on it, it’s time to start narrowing down. Start asking yourself (and your friends) some additional questions. Do you really need six safety schools? Of these eight targets, are there any that have lost their luster? If I got into all twelve of these reach schools, are there any I’d throw out right away?
It’ll take your time and your money to prepare and submit these applications in the fall, and I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a senior who said they wished they’d spent more time working on college applications and essays. Remember, no matter how many places you apply to, you’re still only going to one.
Are you ready to make your college list? A Collegewise counselor can help take the stress out of deciding where you want to go to college.