This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about how many colleges should be added to your list.
Let’s look first at students for whom one option might be enough. Then, we will look at everyone else.
1. One Option for Some Students
Some students—though not many—know exactly where they want to go to college and believe they have a reasonable chance of being admitted to that one college. If you have such a child, here is what the college application process might look like.
If that one college, your teenager’s perfect choice, has an Early Decision plan, your teenager can apply to that college in the fall of the senior year (usually in early November). By doing that, however, he or she is agreeing to attend that college if accepted. An Early Decision offer of admission is binding on both the student and the college. Fortunately, if your teenager is not admitted when Early Decision offers are sent out (usually in December), there is still time to meet the application deadlines of other colleges.
If your teenager’s perfect college choice has an Early Action plan, he or she can also apply earlier and receive an answer earlier. Early Action works a bit like Early Decision, except that an offer of admission is not binding on the student. That is the crucial difference: A student can apply to more than one college with an Early Action plan, can even apply to other colleges with regular application deadlines, and does not have to accept an admissions offer as soon as it is given. Of course, if your teenager really wants to attend one college and that college has an Early Action plan and he or she is accepted, then the admissions game is over.
On the other hand, your teenager’s perfect college choice might have rolling admissions—meaning that applications are considered as they come in and decisions are made throughout the year. If the application is submitted early enough in the senior year and the decision is made fast enough by the college, then you might not have to consider other colleges. However, the exact schedule for reviewing applications at colleges with rolling admissions is often not knowable—meaning that a student might or might not get an answer about admissions quick enough to save the trouble of applying to other colleges.
For students whose perfect college choice does not have an Early Decision, Early Action, or rolling admissions plan, it would obviously be dangerous to apply just to one college on a regular deadline and not to look at some additional choices.
2. More Than One Option for Everyone Else
For all of those students who have not narrowed down their search to one college, how many applications should be made? Of course, there is no right answer to that question. Through some common sense thinking and discussion, we could probably agree that applying to just two colleges sounds like too few and that applying to, say, 10 colleges sounds like too many.
The right answer for your teenager probably lies somewhere in between, depending on how much variety there is in the kinds of colleges you are considering and, as we said in the first two episodes of this series, depending on how many deal breakers there are in considering the kinds of colleges your teenager might apply to.
For example, you can see right away that deciding to keep a student close to home for college—maybe even within commuting distance—would limit the number of options available to that student (unless, of course, home is a major metropolitan area, like New York City). That student might feel that five or six applications would be a reasonable sample of the variety of opportunities available close to home. On the other hand, deciding to send a student away to college would open up an almost limitless number of options. That student might feel that even 10 applications would not be an adequate sample of all the opportunities out there.
As you and your teenager add more deal breakers—that is, more restrictions on the colleges you want to consider—you probably will feel better that fewer applications can cover the remaining college options. For example, let’s say your and your teenager have decided to limit your applications to small, private, four-year colleges in upstate New York that have French majors. In that case, five or six applications might feel like plenty.
One more point: Your teenager should apply only to colleges that he or she actually knows something about and wants to attend. That might sound obvious to you. But, we find that students cannot always explain why they are considering a certain college and sometimes cannot even find it on a map. Those students need more help in applying their deal breakers to a long list of possible colleges, in finding out about a good many of them, and then in narrowing down the possibilities to a reasonable number—probably about five to eight.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- When one college option is enough
- Why adding more good colleges to your child’s list might not help him/her get an admissions offer
- How colleges wind up on students’ lists without enough input from them
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