College Applications: How Many Is Too Many?

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With the unpredictability of the college admission process, it can be difficult to decide how many applications to submit.

Celebration or commiseration? As college admission decisions are released, it all depends on what’s inside the envelope.

The admissions process is unpredictable at best. According to Liz Weston of Reuters:

“I have one student this year who was waitlisted at the University of Chicago and accepted at Yale, Harvard and Columbia,” said Shirley Bloomquist, a college counselor in Great Falls, Va., with 30 years of experience.

Another student with similar credentials was accepted to the University of Chicago but rejected by Yale. “It’s much more variable than it used to be,” Bloomquist said.

The most recent “State of College Admission” report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling echoes Bloomquist’s assessment.

U.S. postsecondary institutions are less able to predict enrollment trends today than they were 10 years ago, as evidenced by declining “yield rates” — the number of accepted applicants that ultimately decide to attend a college — as well as the increasing numbers of students placed on wait lists.

Students are submitting more college applications, which makes it difficult for schools to predict how many admitted students will actually enroll. This helps to fuel the admissions unpredictability.

Here are a couple of shocking statistics regarding college applications, according to Weston:

  • Students who applied to seven or more colleges. In 1990, 9 percent did. In 2012, it was 28 percent.
  • Students who submitted three or more applications. In 1990, 61 percent did. By 2012, it was 77 percent.

While some students submit as many as 20 applications, Bloomquist said 10 applications should be sufficient. It’s important to apply to schools in the following three areas:

  • Reach. These schools are long shots, but ones where you have a chance, albeit small, of being accepted.
  • Target. Schools that match your stats, like GPA, test scores and class rank. You should have a good shot of getting accepted at your target schools.
  • Safety. Safety schools are colleges where you exceed all of the admission requirements. Make sure you would be happy to attend your safety school, or it’s not worth applying, Weston said.

You can whittle down a list of prospective colleges by following this advice from Weston: Don’t apply to colleges where you have no chance of getting accepted or to schools you would never want to attend.

I filled out only one college application. I based my decision on where to apply on the following three factors: quality of the journalism program, tuition cost and scholarship potential. I knew I would get accepted by the college I applied to, so that wasn’t a concern.

Honestly, I knew where I wanted to go to college, so I didn’t see any point in wasting my time or money to fill out applications for schools I was fairly certain I wouldn’t go to anyway. But that’s just me.

Do you have any college application experiences you want to share? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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