How many colleges should your student apply to? And how should they decide which ones they are interested in?
There is no magic number. The College Board says that “five to eight applications are usually enough to ensure that a student is accepted into a suitable institution (depending, of course, on the individual student's record and circumstances)”. Your student’s list should be a sensible combination of safety, probable, and reach schools.
THE RIGHT SCHOOLS
Applying to the right schools is more important than applying to the right number of schools. Students need to vigorously research their college choices either through their computer or in person. Online they should get to know the numbers, size up the competition. Students should identify the types of students the schools accepts in relation to grades, scores and activities. What type of student is that school looking for?
College visits are the best way to see, hear and feel if a school is right. Don’t misunderstand, going to a football game does not constitute a college visit. Students need to take a tour, visit a class, eat in the cafeteria, talk to the students and, when possible, meet with an admission counselor. Does the school have the courses and programs your student is interested in? Is the college a good academic match, considering your students capabilities and grades? Does the school make sense to your family financially? The most important question everyone needs to ask is, “will they be happy living and studying at this school for the next four years?” Unhappy students make for unsuccessful students.
By the very beginning of senior year, your students should have at least five colleges under consideration. “Safety” schools are colleges with flexible admission standards whose requirements mean little chance of rejection for that applicant. While many students apply to just one safety school, we recommend that they apply to at least two, taking both finances and academics into account. A “probable" college is one that may be somewhat challenging for a student to gain acceptance, but at the same time a distinct possibility. Students will often fall within the range of published requirements for these schools and have a competitive chance at acceptance. We feel it is best to have two to four probable colleges under consideration. “Reach” schools are the ones that are less likely to accept the student. This may be because the student's qualifications do not match or fall slightly short of the college's average, and the competition for the limited places in the freshman class is intense. These are the schools that a student might not fit the stated requirements, but feel they have enough to show in their personal story to get the admissions counselors to look past the numbers. This is what strong college essays are for.
College admission experts often refer to the “reach” schools as the top choices that would make the student happiest and the opposite for the “safety” schools. At Chicago Academic, we completely disagree with this attitude. There is such a plethora of choices in looking at colleges that we firmly believe that your student should be thrilled to go to every school on their list. There is no dispute that schools with better reputations and higher rankings often lead to a different trajectory for graduates. In the end, unhappy students often fail wherever they are. Investigating schools at every tier will allow for a much more relaxed application process. Your student should feel assured that they will enjoy their college experience at every school on their list.
by Gil Gibori, Director