How Many Applications is Too Many?

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Yesterday, we told you about the high-achieving student who applied to ten schools — both reaches and safeties — and didn’t get into a single one. With odds like that, the only solution is to apply to even more schools, right? Well, actually, no.

The average college student today will apply to more than nine schools, a figure that “seems much too high,” at least according to one admissions counselor writing in the New York Times. Jordanna Suriani argues that seniors apply to ten-plus schools haven’t thought enough about what they want, or they’re caught up in what she calls “the admissions game.” And now that most colleges accept the common application, it’s easy enough for students to put themselves in the running for large numbers of schools. But when students start hedging their bets and applying to schools that they’re not even interested because they’re panicked after reading too many stories about declining acceptance rates, they’re really only harming themselves.

But it’s not just students’ problem. In order to rise in the rankings, colleges try to raise their yield numbers — which can sometimes mean rejecting students who would otherwise be a good fit, but who don’t seem to be genuinely interested in the school. The Baltimore student mentioned above may have been rejected from her safety schools for being too good — the admissions officials were savvy enough to figure out that they weren’t the first choice. As Suriani puts it, “The student is not considered a likely enrollee, and the school prefers to admit the student with less impressive credentials who has attended open house, written to an admissions officer that College X is his first choice, and met with an alum rep at his local college fair.”

Suriani’s advice? Apply to five schools — six, max! — and make sure they’re all places that you’d be thrilled to attend. Don’t worry about trying to rack up acceptances to schools that don’t speak to you.

Which sounds reasonable enough — but we can’t help but wonder:  is it feasible in today’s hyper-competitive academic culture? How many schools will your kid be applying to in the fall?

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