Optimum Number of College Applications
How many colleges should you apply to? What is ideal? Well, unless you are a committed athlete or recruited for some other reason, and this is a commitment for sure, you should absolutely be applying to several schools. Depending on your own desires, I often suggest at least nine, more often twelve and sometimes fifteen schools.
When deciding on how many, we usually look at the profile as it is right now. Not with the expectation that you will increase your scores a lot or that you will get only good grades in the fall. We consider your core GPA-English, Language, Science, Math and History, your ACT and/or SAT scores, how many AP, Honors courses you are in and if you are in an IB program. We look at what your profile is now compared to the average 50th to 75th percentile accepted into the schools you have been looking at, and for which schools you most likely will be considered a good applicant.
Some systems or programs that counselors use take your information and compare it to other students in your own school, and then the program turns out a list of likely, possible, and reach schools. While I am not a huge proponent of these programs, I do know that they save time. However, these programs are limited in scope and use the schools most attended by those who have went to your school in the past. Further, the actual placement in colleges in not 100% determined by the statistics put into those programs. Athletic recruitment, gifted minorities, legacy programs, and other non-recorded data that seriously influences college acceptances are not included in these programs. So, often the statistics are just not accurate and do not reflect the true picture. The lists can be skewed by these missing statistics or inaccurate statistics. Too often a list is generated in the the second half of junior year that is vastly altered by the end of break before senior year starts. I have had many parents and students believing or hoping for the first picture only to be shocked by what happens later. Be prepared, the real picture is not shared until you are in the midst of applications. You can see strategic guidance now. Contact us!
In this regard, it is worthwhile for those who are able, to hire an outside consultant to focus on the research aspect of finding the right mix and likely mix of colleges you should consider. Many parents are not aware of how colleges have changed and developed since they were in college. Many are going on information from other parents, which I have found is often as distorted as the computer programs.
Ideally, when you put together a list, think ratios of what I call: Safeties, Targets and Reaches. Think 3:3:3, 4:4:4, or 5:5:5. The average number of applications most students complete is 12 to 15 in the U.S.
What is a safety school? Colleges do not really appreciate that term, and most do not want to consider themselves as such, but in reality, you need to have schools that you will get into. Look at your GPA, if you GPA is slightly higher (not dramatically higher) than the 50th percentile of the class accepted two years ago. The statistics published are from last year’s incoming class, so those numbers are two years old now. Now look at your scores, are your scores slightly higher than that same 50th percentile? Do you have added influencers such as legacy, connections to alumni, or your parents have a history of giving to the school? Then these schools would be your safeties, unless they are very popular in your own school. Yes, if the school is tremendously popular and has a large volume of applications from your area and your own school, it cannot be considered a safety. It is now a target.
Targets are schools, which you really want to attend and stand a fair chance of gaining acceptance given your scores, grades and any influencing factors. Your scores and grades should be closer to the 75th percentile of the previous accepted class or higher. You should also have something that gives you a competitive edge, such as more AP courses or perhaps something that is special to you and valued by the school. An example might be that you have a Science Award for conservation and the school has a large and prestigious Sustainability program or perhaps you took a summer course at the school, and you excelled and secured a recommendation from the Dean of the program. Do you have legacy to the school? Do you have influencing factors that the school would consider important and what is the history of students accepted from your own high school that actually attended that college? All of these factors can put the school as your target.
Reaches, well these are what you hope with all your heart would accept you, but for which your grades and scores are really not in range or are at the lower edge of these schools’ ranges. These might also be super competitive schools in your area and among your fellow classmates. Schools that are very, very popular become reaches because the sheer volume of applications makes it a challenge for even the most qualified to get noticed.
Is there a way to change your mix and put some that are reaches into targets and so forth? Well, that is what most people want to know and what most people hire consultants to help identify methods to put that strategy in place to influence a more favorable outcome. Does this work? I have to say, for over 20 years, I have seen some amazing outcomes in both the positive and negative.
There is an element of luck to this process, but with some good guidance and review, your profile can be polished to present you in the best way to showcase your strengths. We are here to help, you can contact us!