College applications: how many is too many?

shutterstock_233708551Let’s face it: getting admitted to college is hard. Admissions are competitive, and even if you’re a top student with tons of extracurriculars, getting into your first or even second choice school is not even a close to guaranteed. Therefore, most college advisors will recommend mitigating the risk by applying to several different schools. But while “several” might have once meant 3 or 4, you now hear stories of students submitting 10, 15, even 20 applications. Is that crazy, or is that the new normal?

There is no question that the number of applications a student submits has risen substantially over the years. Based on data collected by The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, approximately 71% of students were submitting applications to 3 or more schools already back in 2005. By 2014—almost a decade later—that number increased to 83%. Now, even if that increase seems reasonable—after all, more students are applying to college, so competition is arguably fiercer—consider this: in 2005, just 17% of students were submitting 7 or more applications. By 2014, that figure more than doubled.

So 35% of students are submitting 7+ applications, and 83% of students are submitting 3+, but those are just numbers. Ultimately, what you want to know is: Is there a magic number of applications you should be submitting?

There does seem to be a magic range: 6–8. Submitting six to eight applications will ensure that you can apply to a range of schools based on how likely you are to get in. A good mix is to split it into approximate thirds: 2–3 safety schools, 2–3 match schools, and 2–3 reach schools.

But maybe you need to be convinced. After all, while that 6–8 applications strategy might sound logical, why shouldn’t you apply to more schools? Isn’t more better? Or what if you do apply to fewer schools? What, really, are the consequences?

If you apply to too few schools

This one’s easy. Take the most extreme example, where you only apply to one college. Maybe it’s your first and only choice, or maybe you are 99.9% confident you’ll be accepted. But then that letter arrives, and that 0.1% chance becomes reality. You didn’t get in. Now what? You have no other choice of schools, because you didn’t apply anywhere else. At this point, you can take a gap year to travel, or enter the workforce, but if your sole post-graduation plan was to go straight to college, you’re going to be out of luck.

If you apply to too many schools

On the other side of the equation, it may seem counterintuitive to limit the number of schools you apply to. After all, applying to multiple schools is easier than ever with the Common Application. Why would you limit yourself?

Well for starters, applications can get expensive. College application fees can run as high as $100, and if you start multiplying that fee by ten, twelve, fifteen applications . . . that’s money you could be saving to buy books your first semester!

But even if application fees are not a barrier, consider the tension that so often exists between quantity and quality. If you’re applying to just a handful of schools, you can spend more time and attention on each of those applications. When you aren’t trying to push so many applications out the door, you can afford to customize and personalize each application, and that extra time and care may very well be the difference between being accepted to and being rejected from your school of choice.

There is one final and very good reason not to apply to schools en masse. Often, students find themselves applying to a ton of schools because they don’t know where they actually want to go. This seems innocuous until, come April, you’ve been accepted to most or all of them but still have no idea which one you want to attend—only now you’re down to the wire. You have to make a decision.

Ultimately, you’re better off doing your research early in the application process, narrowing down your college selection, and then spending the time and attention it takes to create a really outstanding application for each individual school.

Having trouble narrowing your choices?

Consider these eight factors when reviewing your schools of interest:

  1. Size (student body, average class size, campus size)
  2. Location (including weather, proximity to home)
  3. Rankings & reputation
  4. Cost/financial aid
  5. Campus culture
  6. Majors offered & curriculum
  7. Local internship and job offerings
  8. Study abroad opportunities

If you really put in the time and effort to weigh these factors, your list will almost certainly shrink to a manageable size. And do you really want to waste time applying to schools you never intend to attend?

Top 5 questions to ask a college recruiter


5-questions-at-fair-blog-picYou’re at a college fair, waiting to talk to a certain college rep. You’ve been in line for what feels like ages, and you’re finally at the front of the pack. The college rep looks at you, smiles, and waits for you to say your piece. But wait—what is it you wanted to ask???

Here are five key questions that, should you draw a blank, will always help you learn what you want to know about a school (which is, of course, 1. Will I be happy there? and 2. Will they accept me?)

1. What do students like most about your school? The answer to this question can be very insightful. For instance, if the college rep cites academic well-roundedness, but you’re looking for an in-depth biomedical engineering program, this school might not be quite the right fit. Also, a fantastic follow-up question to “what do student like most” is: What is the biggest complaint from current students?

2. What kinds of students are happiest at your school? Here, you’re looking to find out whether you’ll fit in. Obviously you can’t ask the college rep whether you will be happy at their school, but if the description they provide sounds a lot like you, that’s a good sign that you, too, will be happy attending this college.

3. Do admissions officers make decisions based on numbers, or do other activities really matter? This might sound like a fairly blunt question, but for any school that might be a reach, it’s worth asking to avoid wasting your time (and money) applying if they’ll never look past an SAT score or GPA that doesn’t meet their standard.

4. How does your career planning department compare to other colleges/universities? This question accomplishes two goals. First, it shows the college rep that you are already thinking about life after college—which is good for them, because it means you’re there to be successful and prepare for a career! But second, their answer will tell you what level of priority that school places on placing students in jobs after they graduate. The more resources they cite, the better your chances of getting assistance and guidance when you begin the process of making your post-college plans.

5. Can you give me the names of a few students whom I could talk to about their experience at your school? This question is a little tricky, because college reps can’t give you the names and contact details of just anyone at the school. However, there are often student ambassadors who volunteer to talk to prospective students (and sometimes host them for an overnight visit!), or alumni who are happy to tell you about their experience. If the rep is unwilling to connect you with anyone, that’s probably a bad sign . . . so don’t take no for an answer!

10 Uncomfortable-But-Necessary Financial Aid Questions You Need to Ask

shutterstock_73041280No matter who you are or how much you have, talking about money is awkward. But it’s especially awkward when you’re asking for it.

Unfortunately, most students need to ask for money to attend college. And the number one beneficiary they’re asking? The college itself.

Navigating financial aid can be tricky; you need to know what questions to ask. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of ten key questions to ask your colleges of choice about their financial aid policies. Some of these may not apply to you, and there may be others you need to ask based on your unique situation. These ten, however, should get you off to a great start.

  1. What is the average total cost—including tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and other estimated expenses—for the first year?
  2. How much has this average increased over the last three years?
  3. What percentage of students graduate with debt?
  4. What is the average amount of student loan debt for graduates?
  5. Are there on-campus work opportunities for work-study students? What if I don’t quality for a work-study job?
  6. Does your college practice need-blind admissions, or will applying for financial aid hurt my chances of being admitted?
  7. How is financial aid affected if I apply early decision or early action?
  8. If I am awarded a grant, can I expect it to remain constant all four years (assuming my financial circumstances don’t change)?
  9. If I win a scholarship, will you reduce my financial aid package? If so, will you reduce the amount of loans or the amount of grants?
  10. Do you provide financial aid for summer classes or study abroad programs?

Whether at a college fair, on a campus tour, or in an admissions interview, you need to find an opportunity to ask these important questions. Ultimately, the amount of aid you receive may dictate what school you are able to attend, so make sure you get answers! And the best way to make sure you do? Schedule a meeting with the financial aid office!