Last week I read about an unnamed private school that limits students and their families to nine schools on a college list. The school has a mix of students from wealthy and immigrant low income families. Their students have average SATs of 1450 and an average unweighted GPA of 3.7. I’m sure that these students have a lot of choices. But when too many apply to too few schools off their college list, some might want to start looking for a place where they have less competition, but are still likely to be happy to go.
In working with my college-bound clients I consider the list relative to the student and what they’re looking for. It’s one thing when the student and parents are seeking admission to a very selective small or mid-sized college. It’s quite common for students who are interested in a liberal arts major to cross shop these schools. I always recommend that students keep the number of “dream schools” to a minimum, like one or two. Not that they will always follow my advice, but I would rather that they spend more time considering where they’re most likely to get in and get the experience they want.
A prospective Political Science major in Central New Jersey might take a look at American, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, George Washington, Gettysburg and Washington College (MD) and apply to all six. That same student might also look at the University of Maryland-College Park, especially if there’s a chance to get into the honors college. Same with Rutgers and the University of Delaware, which have some very nice programs in Political Science and Public Policy. I’m sure this student would be happy with a choice of nine schools, unless there’s a desire to reach for a dream like Georgetown or Johns Hopkins.
I have also seen students cross shop the business schools at the larger universities against those at mid-sized schools. It’s quite possible for a New Jersey high school student to reach for Wharton and NYU. That student might also apply to Drexel, Villanova, Lehigh and Fordham as well as Rutgers, Pitt and Penn State. There’s little difference between the academics at the larger programs. But there are differences between locations and connections if this student wants to work in New York or Philadelphia over the summers or after graduation. However, you can get to the career you want from any one of these schools, if you do the work. Nine or ten schools with six to eight likely choices might be enough.
Sometimes students need to hedge their bets. Suppose a New Jersey high school student wants to go to a public college to study Nursing, the most competitive program for admissions to any school that offers the degree. Rutgers offers a path on all three campuses: Camden, Newark and New Brunswick. The other public colleges that offer the same path: Montclair State, Ramapo, Stockton, The College of New Jersey and William Paterson.
Rutgers allows you to apply to up to three schools on one application. The other six schools are residential, so it’s quite possible for a prospective nursing student to consider all of them. Most students will not get into all nine. They all might apply elsewhere to be sure that they have a chance to become a nurse. There are state schools in Pennsylvania that offer low tuition and fees, some with tuition reductions for New Jersey residents. It might be necessary to apply to 10 to 12 public colleges with the hope of becoming a nurse, if the private options are too expensive to consider.
While a limit of nine schools might not work for everyone, applying to more than a dozen schools off a college list borders on insecurity or ridiculousness. Its better to give yourself a choice of schools where you are likely to be admitted and be happy to go. Try to keep the reaches to a minimum. There are many colleges where you can get an education. Its better to have a bunch of first choices than a bunch of reaches and a fallback where you do not want to be.
Getting ready for the journey to college? Need help developing a college list with the best choices? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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