HOW MANY COLLEGES SHOULD I APPLY TO?
One frequently asked question by students in Grades 11 and 12 and their parents is: When applying to colleges and universities, what is the best total number?
Obviously, there is no single BEST number for every student. There are several factors which are much more important than the total number:
- Selection Criteria: In Grade 11, all students decide on the criteria which are most important to them in choosing a college where they will spend the next three to four years. These include the strength of the academic curriculum, size of the student body, geographical location, physical facilities, living conditions, multi-cultural diversity, special programs, support services, tuition and costs, and financial aid opportunities, among others.
When researching and evaluating colleges, students should choose only those which match their most important Selection Criteria. Those are the colleges which make the best “fit,” where the student will be most likely to enjoy and profit from college life.
- Academic Range: Applicants will be admitted mainly on the basis of their academic profile in college. Some are extremely competitive, admitting only a small percentage of applicants and rejecting even those who are qualified. Others accept most or all of their applicants. Most are in between. When researching colleges, students should look realistically at their own academic achievement to calculate their chances of being accepted, using the statistics provided by directories, search engines, and each college.
Rank colleges in one of four categories:
– Match (where most students with your current academic level are accepted),
– Reach (where you have a chance but no guarantee of being admitted),
– Dream (where you have only a small possibility, but you want to take your chances), and
– Safety (where you have realistically calculated that you are certain to be accepted).
The colleges you apply to should span all four categories, with at least one Dream and at least one Safety college, and perhaps two Match and two Reach colleges.
- Different National Systems and Calendars: Keep in mind that different countries use different systems for college admissions, and the deadlines for applications and dates for announcing admission can vary widely. This will influence the total number of colleges you apply to, if you apply in more than one country (as many Saint Maur students do).
In particular, students who are interested in applying to British universities through the UCAS system should work closely with Dr Suzuki in Grades 11 and 12, as she will guide them through this process. Students who plan to attend university in Japan should remember that the number of openings in many of the international programs is extremely limited. You should apply to more than one Japanese university to make sure that you get a place.
There are some other important considerations to keep in mind:
- You do not increase your chances of admission by applying to MORE colleges. College admission is not like buying Food Fair raffle tickets! When you enter a lottery, the more tickets you buy, the greater your chances of winning, because each person has an equal chance of winning with each ticket purchased. However, this analogy just doesn’t apply to college admission, which is much more complex. Of course, it is reckless to apply to only one college, and you should apply to several. However, your chances of admission become higher (based on the number of colleges you apply to) only up to SIX colleges. Beyond that number, there is no significant statistical advantage to applying to more (within any one national system). This is based on a comprehensive statistical analysis conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). As a result, NACAC has strongly advised students to apply to a maximum of six collegesand universities within one country.
(By the way, do buy lots of raffle tickets for the Saint Maur Food Fair—in this case, it DOES increase your chance of winning a prize!)
- Workload for You: Every college has a long and complicated application form, which you must fill out, carefully and in detail. Each college requires at least one essay, which you must write, re-write, edit, and polish. Completing college applications (in autumn of Grade 12) requires as much time as one of your six full-credit IB subjects! Remember that your Semester I grades count a lot in the admissions process, and you don’t want to overload yourself with too many applications.For every college you apply to, there are additional requirements, increasing the workload and demand on your time.(Even if you use the Common Application for the U.S. colleges which accept it, many colleges require supplemental essays on top of the overall Common App requirements.)
- Pressure and Tension during Grade 12: This will be the hardest year so far, with all of your IB internal requirements, mock exams, and then your IB/AP exams throughout May. Adding lots of applications, each with its own requirements, many due at the same time, will increase the pressure on any senior. You will also feel more tension and stress about acceptance or rejection with every college you add to your list. Even when you are accepted (probably to more than one college) in the spring, you have a new source of tension: how do you choose the right one, and how will you and your parents pay for it? Often these big decisions must be made immediately before or during your IB exams. Controlling the number of colleges where you apply will simplify your life greatly!
- Workload for Others: When you increase the number of colleges, you increase the burden for many people in addition to yourself: your parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and office staff. Colleges also require recommendation letters from your teachers, counselors, and administrators. They put a lot of time and effort into these letters, to increase your chances of admission.
The Registrar in the school office, Mrs Nishide, also devotes a lot of time and care to each and every application package, since each must be sent separately to a different address by a specific deadline and with individual requirements. She includes transcripts, certificates, external exam grades, and many other documents. Your parents also feel the pinch: many colleges require application fees, and these can amount up to a lot of money. Your parents will also have to pay all of the costs of postage for the packages of documents sent all around the world.
For all of these reasons, Saint Maur has a standard policy for all 12th graders:
- A student may apply to a maximum of SIX colleges and universities in each country or national system. (In Britain, the maximum number of applications allowed by the UCAS system is five.)
Students may exceed this limit, in the United States only, by adding a maximum of three additional universities or colleges, as detailed below:
- The Early Decision program (at a small number of U.S. universities) allows students to apply to one university in November, which should be their first choice and also a Dream. If accepted, they are committed (both legally and morally) to attend this university, and must withdraw all applications to other colleges and universities.
9b. The Early Action program (at a somewhat larger number of U.S. universities) allows students to apply to one or more universities in November. These should also be very high choices and either Dreams or Reaches. If accepted, students can wait until they hear from all of the other universities and colleges where they have applied before making their final decision. Students should consider the benefits and drawbacks of both of these programs (especially if they expect to receive financial aid), and be sure to follow the rules for different types of Early Action (restrictive and non-restrictive).
Saint Maur will support a maximum of two early applications (with deadlines in November): either two by Early Action, or one by Early Action and one by Early Decision. However, early deadlines are definitely not appropriate for all seniors. Students should listen carefully to the advice of their counselors, who may advise them to wait until the regular deadline, as that may be more advantageous for their admission chances.
Saint Maur will not support any application by a deadline before November 1.
9c. Some U.S. public, state-run universities (such as the University of California or California State University system) do not require transcripts at the time of application, nor do they ask for recommendation letters or any application materials from Saint Maur. Students may add up to three more colleges like this to their total for the U.S. (It is unwise to apply only within the UC or CSU system, however.)
A student who followed any combination of the exceptions above could thus apply to a maximum total of nine colleges in the United States.
- Regardless of the exceptions explained above or the number of countries, the total number of applications for ALL countries must not exceed TWELVE as an absolute worldwide maximum. Nevertheless, we strongly advise all students against applying to more than ten universities. In practice, Saint Maur seniors very rarely apply to as many as ten. In the Classes of 2009 through 2013, the average number of applications for each student was consistently in a range between six and eight.)
Saint Maur students are fortunate to have college counselors who can provide them with individualized attention on a daily basis. They should take advantage of these opportunities for well-informed advice, since the counselors have their best interests at heart. Counselors will encourage students to focus their time and effort on applying to the colleges and universities that provide the best match for their interests and abilities, rather than applying recklessly due to uninformed desperation.
- It is also unwise to apply to too FEW colleges. Even though a student may have found one or two colleges which seem to be a perfect match by the end of Grade 11 or the beginning of Grade 12, they may not provide a sufficient range of selection by spring of Grade 12, since students will grow and develop in both intellect and interests. Therefore, we recommend that all students chose a minimum of FOUR universities worldwide, following the pattern of Match, Reach, Dream, and Safety described above.
We ask that all students and parents consider the points raised in this explanation and cooperate with it, for the reasons listed. The policy aims for the benefit of all parties involved: students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and office staff. While this policy has restricted the number of colleges each student applies to, it has not limited their academic success: to demonstrate this, please look at the impressive list of colleges and universities where students in the senior class have been accepted each year!