The answer, my friend, is that it depends.  The answer is that it depends.

Yes, I know I am, once again, playing the “it depends/it’s complicated/shades of gray” card.  But, once again, I don’t like the question.  Let me approach it this way:

What are we trying to accomplish here?

Caitlin: Find the school that “fits” – the college that brings me to where I need to go and provides me with the best opportunity to achieve my goals and to grow as a person.

Brad: Grow?  You mean, like the Freshman 15?

No, Brad, not like the Freshman 15.  Caitlin, it sounds like someone has been reading my blog posts.  Let your Mom know that she will be getting a price break on the retainer service.

So, if we’re trying to find the schools that best fits your needs and goals and best fits you, how many schools should you apply to?

Justin: When you ask it that way, I’m tempted to say “one” – the one that meets that criteria.

And I understand why.  But, I’ll give you two reasons why one is probably not the right answer.  First, there are multiple ‘fit’ schools for almost every student.  And you generally apply in the Fall, but decide in the Spring.  So, you hate to eliminate College X too early, when it is a comparable choice to University Y.  Let the process play out naturally.

The second reason is money.  For many, the financial aid package will affect the final decision.  I caution folks not to have the financial aid package play more of a role than it should, but I fully understand that it can be a very important part of the final decision.  Don’t rule out a school before you have that information in front of you.  By not applying, you don’t know what aid you could receive at College X.

So, how many schools should a student apply to?  I’ve seen recommendations range from “4 to 8” to “6 or 7” to “7 to 12” to “25 or 6 to 4″ to ‘but some apply to as many as 20 – or more – and there’s nothing wrong with that.”  I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of these, but here are some points I would suggest you consider:

  • Visits and other Research – This is a big part of why you visit schools, go to their website, check out College Confidential, Zinch, Cappex, Naviance, FastWeb, etc. etc. etc.  Do the research, find the schools that ‘fit’ and eliminate the schools that don’t.  That way, you have a less of an issue with the next item…
  • Application Fee Costs – Generally, College Application Fees are in the $50-$75 range.  So, narrowing the list down to an appropriate size can save hundreds – and, in some cases, $1000 or more – in application fees.
  • Fit, Not Reach vs. Reach/Match/Safety –  As you may know, one of my pet peeves is the reach/match/safety outline for picking colleges.  It frames the question in terms of the college’s policies, not your aspirations, preferences and needs.  In other words, it frames the question in terms of them, and not in terms of YOU.  To me, it’s all about “Fit, Not Reach”.  Of course, it does matter that you do get accepted to some of your choices, or the whole system kinda breaks down.  But, I think we’ve created a standard policy – with reach/match/safety – that is cart before the horse, tail wagging the dog, fill in your own analogy here.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the right amount of schools to apply to is a personal matter.  Actual results may vary.  And, if you find yourself on the Common App site or Naviance for more than 4 hours, consult a guidance counselor….

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.   And now on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/CCRMichael?feature=mhee.

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