A couple of weeks ago, the NY Times ran an article about a high school senior in North Carolina who was accepted to 113 colleges. The student was rightly feted for her overall accomplishments but one quote in particular stood out to me: “‘I felt if I can get into all of these,’ she said, ‘What else I can get in?’” Reading her words I could not help but feel that this quest essentially amounted to trophy collecting by virtue of participating.
So am I throwing water on this teenager’s accomplishments? No. And yes.
Let me be clear, getting into college is a huge milestone and one that ought to be celebrated, but it’s not as challenging as one might think. As I have written before and as the data indicates, over 1500 two-year community colleges are open enrollment, meaning all a student needs to do to get in is simply apply, while another 500+ four-year colleges have selectivity rates between 75% - 100%. With this in mind, a student like the one profiled in this article, who had earned a 4.0 GPA, could conceivably apply to 2000 colleges and most probably get into all of them. The challenge is not getting into college, but rather finding a right-fit college that matches your likelihood of getting in and staying in.
Assuming that applying to 113 colleges is an outlier, applying to 20 or more is not terribly uncommon. Here is why this is not such a great goal.
Applying to college is expensive
If a student does not qualify for a fee waiver, or the college does not offer one, they are required to pay application fees for each, with a median price of $40. On top of that, each college will require students to send their official SAT or ACT scores directly from the companies administering those exams; the College Board and the ACT respectively. Each of these score reports cost between $12-16 apiece. All told, if a student applies to 20 colleges, they could be looking at fees well north of $1k.
Supplemental essays are hard and time-consuming
Each application is different. While the Common Application has made it easier to apply to multiple colleges using one platform, there is still quite a bit of heavy lifting when it comes to filling out the individual college questions on the application. This is especially true for many of the more selective colleges, as they often require supplemental essays. These short answer responses or longer-length essays are an integral part of the application with colleges paying close attention to the details including spelling, grammar, flow, authenticity, etc. Long and short, it takes time, patience, and editorial skills to get each response just right. Do a poor job and it could be that tipping point between being accepted and being denied. If a student applies to 20 colleges, and many require supplemental essays, it may be unlikely that she will be able to write strong responses for all. A better approach: Think quality vs. quantity.
More is not always better
I use this analogy a lot. Think about going to the grocery store to purchase a can of olives. Upon arriving at the olive aisle, you look up and find three shelves stacked with olives. Green, black, pitted, whole, Manzanilla, Kalamata, Moroccan Salt-Cured, and the list goes on. All you want is a can of black pitted olives; you would be happy with 3-4 choices. Now you have 20 and you feel overwhelmed. Shifting this analogy back to the college application process, if the student has done the upfront work, curated a balanced college list consisting of eight schools (3-4 targets, two reaches, and two safety schools), they will have a manageable amount of acceptances to choose from when the time comes to deposit, making that decision a lot less daunting.
The fall is busy. Like, really busy.
I am a school counselor in a high school and I can tell you from experience that the first day of school feels like you’ve been shot out of a cannon. There is no easing into it; everyone arrives at the same time and you’re off to the races. Picture any given day for a high school senior outside of academic school hours between early September to November 1st: Soccer practice, band practice, prepping for an additional SAT exam, college visit(s), studying for an AP Literature and Composition exam, homework, a weekend away for a school trip, afterschool clubs, movies with friends, babysitting, household duties, etc., etc., etc.
Am I forgetting something? Oh, applying to college.
There are less than 60 days that stand between the beginning of senior year and the early college deadlines . It’s no small feat to complete expertly packaged college applications that you hope will get you into your dream school—never mind your target schools—considering the obligations that envelope a teenager’s day-to-day. Thinking that a student can produce 20+ high-quality college applications is most probably untenable, not to mention unnecessarily stressful.
The only thing we have to fear…
Ultimately, I think students end up applying to many more schools than they should because they are afraid that they will be the one student in their class that gets denied by every college they apply to. Therefore, they hedge. I get it and I empathize with this sentiment, but the correction should not be to apply to two dozen colleges “just in case.” Students who work diligently to build a college list that includes a mix of targets, reaches and safer options, while accepting input from their parent/guardian/mentor and school counselor, will undoubtedly end up with multiple colleges to choose from when the acceptance letters have finished coming in. Moreover, they won’t feel like they’re standing in the olive aisle as sweat beads form on their forehead.
Here’s the deal. I love it when one of my students comes into my office, smile fixed broadly across their face, and tells me they have been accepted to this college or that one. I am an educator who loves working with young people and their happiness brings me satisfaction both professionally and personally. However, the truth of the matter is that, while the young lady, her family, and the educators in her life have every right to feel proud of her accomplishments, in general, this approach is less than sound. Remember, just like on television, eight (colleges) is enough. Do the early legwork, stay ahead of your deadlines, hit your checkpoints, focus on quality over quantity, have fun with it, and allow yourself to enjoy senior year without getting too bogged down.
College Admissions in the News
Study: Colleges That Ditch the SAT and ACT Can Enhance Diversity...
This is great news for equity, but be mindful, that for test-optional colleges, they will be looking even more closely at GPA and course rigor. Read more.
Values Exercise for College Essay…
For current juniors getting ready to dive into their college essay, this values exercise from Ethan Sawyer, aka the College Essay Guy, is a really excellent tool for identifying your core values and aspirations while brainstorming the essay.
SAT v. ACT: Which test should you take?
Take five minutes and find out which college entrance exam is best for you. Click here for the survey.
Podcasts from Revisionists History…
This is “old news” so to speak, but two terrific podcasts from Revisionist History. Carlos Doesn’t Remember (a brilliant student from South Los Angeles who attends an exclusive private school; a cautionary tale about how hard it is to rise from the bottom to the top) and My Little Hundred Million (the hidden ideologies behind giving and how a strange set of ideas has hijacked educational philanthropy.)
College Decision Day Bring Relief, Excitement and Big Worries about Money…
…The biggest question: Can I actually afford to go? Read more.
Quilts, Cows, Money and Meaning: College Essays That Stood Out
This year, the NY Times picked five college application essays about money to publish. All are unique essays in their own way and each focus on the operative -- tell the admissions officers more about YOU. Read five (5) of them here.