The average student will apply to more than nine colleges this fall

by Grace

The average student will apply to more than nine schools this fall, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. In an age where students can not only visit schools almost every day, but can also access limitless information and virtual tours from home or their cellphones, this figure seems much too high to those of us working in higher education.

I was surprised to hear the number is that high.  But I disagree with the writer, an admissions counselor who scolds students to be more thoughtful and scale down on the number of their college applications.  She blames students for escalating this crazy “admissions game” as they casually add colleges to their lists without careful research, leading to a situation where “enrollment managers and admissions offices are struggling to forecast how to fill their classes”.  Her advice?

Figure out what you need and want now, and apply to five or six schools, max, which offer you most, if not all of it. Forget about trying to get as many acceptances as possible to places that don’t speak to you.

Most of the commenters disagreed with the author, as did I.  The number one reason for applying to so many (12) colleges in our case was financial.

… for many students, the number of applications is driven by economic uncertainties, not by lack of self-knowledge….

Absolutely unpredictable which schools dished out the most merit money to which kid. Only a fool (or a 1%er) would follow Ms. Suriani’s advice.

Another reason for so many applications is the secretive admissions process at many schools.

Given the lack of transparency on the part of those most competitive schools, it is best to treat acceptance as independent random events, so the more you apply to the greater the chance of getting into one of them.

And then there’s the illusion that most kids really know what constitutes a good “fit” for them.

Sometimes it seems that colleges forget that the other half of the equation in admissions is 17 or 18 year old kids who feel (rightly or wrongly) that their futures are on the line. Kids, really, who don’t have that good an idea what “fit” is good for them. Who don’t yet know if they are a person who likes big cities or small towns, who think they “might” want to study engineering, but also really liked that creative writing class they took senior year in high school. The colleges are the grown ups in this equation. It is time for them to start acting like it.

Until colleges change how the game is played, it’s likely the number of applications will continue to grow.  On the other hand, if the “higher education bubble” bursts, applications to some schools may plummet.

Related:   Is it wrong to be your kid’s administrative assistant?

4 Comments to “The average student will apply to more than nine colleges this fall”

  1. My D applied to 10 schools this past year. Of those 10, 2 of them were admissions and financial safeties (guaranteeing that no matter what, she would have a choice come April). Two more were likely admissions, but heavily dependent on honors college admissions and financial aid. The other 6 were all lotteries for admissions.

    Her list included a wide variety of schools, but she had solid reasons for selecting each one. The “why ____” essay wasn’t hard for her because she knew what it was at each school that attracted her.

    She was lucky and ended up getting admitted to all 10. She turned down one admissions early when there was a snag in the honors college process and she decided she didn’t want to go there enough to deal with the problem. In the end, there were 4 schools (out of 9) where the total cost to us (without loans) was less than our EFC. She chose among them.

    Along the way we learned that nothing is certain. One college flew her down for an all-expenses-paid research weekend in the fall. They did admit her, but didn’t come through with scholarship money or financial aid (total cost was our EFC + some loans + work-study). This was a school that would have been a major contender, but almost immediately fell out of contention once the financial aid package became available.


  2. Bonnie – you were ahead of your time!


  3. Jo – You’re describing the process I think many parents go through, applying to many colleges and then sifting through the offers to determine the best financial package.

    “Along the way we learned that nothing is certain.”

    One kid I know was accepted to several schools many rungs above the one school where he was rejected. Don’t you know that one school was where he had the best chance of a substantial merit award. It’s uncanny how these things work.


  4. “One kid I know was accepted to several schools many rungs above the one school where he was rejected.”

    They call that “Tufts Syndrome”. Schools reject students they think won’t attend because the school wants to protect their yield.

    Beware that all these applications add up from a $$ perspective. There are applications fees, fees to send SAT and ACT scores, and fees for CSS Profile.

    Also, the more schools you apply to, the more deadlines you have for applications, honors colleges, scholarships, and financial aid. It’s a lot to manage.


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