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Dual Enrollment: Taking College Classes in High SchoolSuzanne Shaffer
With college admissions becoming more and more competitive, it can be tempting to apply to as many colleges as possible. But is it wise or beneficial?
I was perusing a group discussion on Facebook a few weeks ago where a parent was asking for advice on how to apply to 40 colleges using the Common Application. I was surprised that most of the parents had found a work-around since the application will only allow you to apply to 20 colleges. Some had created multiple accounts for their student on the Common App website. Many suggested using alternate methods such as college-specific applications, the Universal Application, or the Coalition Application for the additional schools.
Not one parent raised the question that perhaps 40 was just too many.
If your student can’t narrow down their college list from 40 to a manageable number, you have some work to do. There is a reason the Common Application only allows a student to apply to 20 colleges — and quite honestly, that’s still too many!
If you do your homework, your student should be able to create a manageable list that fits them academically, socially, and financially.
When deciding the number of schools to apply to, your student needs to balance what they expect in a college with other priorities that can impact their decision. Here are four reasons why:
Applying to college is a time-consuming process. Each part of the application takes time, and each school will most likely have different requirements. Your student can use the Common Application for basic information, but each individual school can have additional requirements or supplements (including extra essays).
Apart from the application itself, your student will spend time researching schools and gathering admission information. Add to that talking to college contacts, meeting with admissions officers, and making visits to show demonstrated interest and it really adds up.
Each college and the associated research and application can consume a large portion of your student’s time during junior and senior year when they are also busy with school and homework, extracurricular activities, social life, and possibly a part-time job. You can see why so many students are stressed during college application season if there are too many colleges on their list.
The obvious reason that might stop your student from applying to 40 colleges is the cost. The average application fee is $50, with elite colleges and universities charging $75 or more. Applying to 40 colleges would cost you a minimum of $2,000. Not many families have that kind of disposal income in today’s economy.
Fees for applying to college don’t stop here. Your student will also have to pay to take standardized tests and to submit their scores to colleges. They can send scores to four colleges for free, but they won’t be able to see their scores before sending them. If they want to see their scores before sending a score report to the college, it will cost $12 per college to send the SAT scores. Multiply that by 40 and you're looking at another $480.
Fee waivers are available for both application fees and test fees if you can demonstrate financial need but applying for this waiver will take some time and most won’t qualify.
Before applying to any college, you should help your student calculate the odds of acceptance. Check out the college’s GPA and SAT/ACT score requirements and compare them with your student’s record.
You can find admissions requirements on a college’s admissions page or using College Navigator. To save a bit of time, try using a college acceptance calculator to determine your student's chances of getting accepted into any school in the country.
If your student wants to focus on schools that are highly likely to offer them admission, they should apply to colleges where they'll be considered an exceptional applicant. An added benefit — those colleges are also more likely to offer merit aid to entice your student to accept an offer of admission.
However, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming. My daughter applied to Boston University with scores and GPA below their average requirements and was offered a spot. The caveat was they did not offer her any financial aid apart from student loans. If we'd done our research, we might have crossed that school off our list because it was simply not affordable without financial aid.
In my opinion, the number of colleges a student applies to isn’t as important as the quality. A good college list needs to be well-thought-out and researched.
A good college list should have three “fit” criteria: financial fit, academic fit, and personal/emotional fit. Once your student has a tentative list, ask if every school has all three criteria before finalizing the list.
Creating a manageable college list will help reduce application stress. Your student can organize the list into three categories:
What additional information does your student need to populate a manageable list and where can they find it?
Two good sources for college statistics are College Navigator and College Data. These two resources will help your student make an informed college choice. Numbers aren’t everything, but consider these important statistics when you are looking at schools:
There is no magic number, but 40 is too many and two is too few. The quality of the applications and the colleges on the list are much more important than the quantity.
The bulk of your student’s college applications should fall into the “Best Bet” category. These are the schools your student can see themselves attending, and where they'll be at the top of the applicant pool.
If your student insists on applying to too many colleges, help them narrow down their list by doing your research and finding the best fits. In the long run, both you and your student will be less stressed and assured of a positive outcome.