How many colleges is too many? Applying to more than 12 colleges is almost always too many!
This is how I explain it:
I suggest 4-8 colleges in my consulting, and here is why.
You have to demonstrate interest in a college in order for an application to have value. That may mean different things to different people, but in general you have to have talked to them at a college fair, visited the college in person or attended an online visit, had phone interviews, exchanged lengthy emails, or written personalized application essays tailored to your research, based on each particular college. It's almost as if you get points for every time you touch the college.
What does NOT demonstrate interest? Showing up on campus without an appointment and nobody knows you are there. Online searches or other research that the college doesn't know about.
Demonstrating interest in a college takes time. Colleges know that. They know if you have spent some time with their university, then you are truly interested in them, and if they admit you, that you are more likely to attend. What they do NOT want is to admit a student and have them not attend their college. Those rejections cost them, and their ranking goes down if many students reject them.
Colleges will admit you if they think you will attend and stay for all four years. The US News and World Report, for example, will rank colleges based on how many people choose to go there when they are admitted. Demonstrating interest increases the chance you will attend. Colleges are ranked based on whether students stay for all four years, and demonstrating interest with visits can prove you are likely to stay.
Each application may cost $50-$150, so the cost of applying for more than 12 colleges can really add up quickly. Scholarships are not given based on randomly filling out applications, it comes from demonstrating unique interests in a college. So applying for more than 12 colleges that you haven't touched will not increase your chances of admission or scholarships.Those applications become wasted money.
While applying to 4-8 colleges will earn rewards with scholarships, if you apply to more than 12 colleges you are no longer likely to see an increased financial reward. There is a balancing act, then, in choosing how many colleges to apply to. Too few, and you may not get admitted or get the scholarships you need. Too many, and you are wasting money in the application process.
Find a balance with children who want to apply to a million colleges. When you are talking about a senior in high school applying for college, it can be a complicated thing. They are adults, making adult decisions based on their goals. At the same time, they are counting on you to foot the bill. So you have to find a balance.
You may decide to have your child apply for 4-8 colleges. If your child applies for more than that, suggest letting your child pay for the remaining applications. The cost of $50-$150 per application may convince them of the value of a dollar. Or, perhaps you will only pay for applications where the child has been able to somehow demonstrate interest with specifically-tailored essays for each unique college, or meaningful college visits.
I hope that gives you a good understanding of why I recommend applying to 4-8 colleges. Remember, demonstrated interest, college rankings, application costs, and balance should all play a part in which 4-8 your child applies to.
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