Every year at Bright Horizons College Coach, a frequent topic of discussion with rising seniors revolves around their developing lists of colleges.
We work with them to spend the summer and part of the fall editing list to include roughly two safeties, three-to-five targets, and maybe a couple of reaches. Seven or eight schools, possibly as many as ten, when chosen strategically across each of the aforementioned categories and satisfying a family’s checklist, are ideal.
Inevitably, however, moments of uncertainty, and even panic, ensue for some students and that list of 7-10 inches upward into the teens and even twenties. Because it’s so easy to add “just another school” on the Common App or Coalition App platforms, many students figure, why not apply to four or five or ten others? After all, what harm could there be?
More Schools = More Essays and More Money
Sure, it’s easy to add schools to your Common or Coalition App, but consider that many schools using these platforms will require supplemental essays. These essays require a good amount of thought and research, and need to satisfy the admission reader’s sense that you have clear and specific reasons for applying to the school, which you have connected to your interests and goals. These essays take time, too. You cannot just write one and cut/paste a school’s name into it. And then, there is the cost of applying to consider. Most colleges charge a fee for application, sometimes up to $80. Those costs add up.
No Applicant is an Island
And what of your fellow applicants? Look at it this way: If you are a particularly strong student who decides to just “throw a few more schools” onto your application list because they’re safeties… will your being in those schools’ applicant pools eliminate the chances other, less strong students may have at those schools? What if a school you’re particularly keen on but that may be a bit of a reach has an overabundance of applicants who are stronger than you are who have chosen to do this? It may surprise you, but where you apply doesn’t impact only you.
This isn’t the Lottery
We’ve heard the reasoning used by many applicants and their parents over the years that when it comes to reach schools, students should apply to a large number of them because the more chances you take, the more likely that at least one of them will pan out. This may be true of some things, but it is not so in the world of college admissions. In this world, the law of averages does not apply. A top-heavy list is only likely to set up an applicant for disappointment.
When it comes down to the end of the process, the applicants who tend to reap the best results are those who build and stick to reasonable lists, who spend the appropriate amount of time communicating with and applying to those schools, and who don’t spread themselves too thin.