“My guidance counselor suggested that I apply to 6 schools: 2 safety, 2 range, and 2 reach.” Some version of this phrase has been repeated to me over the last decade by dozens of Connecticut high school students.
For most students applying to college – particularly those from Connecticut’s Shoreline schools who are applying to reasonably competitive colleges – this is not good advice.
Initially, be wary of anyone who gives generic advice regarding a highly specific issue. In other words, it would make no sense to trust a financial advisor who tells you to invest in a specific area based on his general advice to all clients. Without knowing about your specific financial portfolio, such advice would be meaningless. Similarly, without knowing your specific situation, counselors/adults who do not customize their advice to meet your specific needs are doing you a disservice.
More importantly, parents who were educated in the 80s have to learn one more thing about the new world of college admissions: it is far more competitive and expensive than before. For that reason, gaining admission as well as gaining merit aid – which is an increasingly bigger part of the college decision – has an unpredictability that necessitates generating many options.
So, for example, if a student – with the SATs/ACTs and GPA to be a possible candidate for a top tier school – wants to attend a top tier school, it would be foolish to apply to only one college or even two. The sheer number of students applying to elite colleges, particularly among students from affluent Connecticut suburbs, makes it impossible to predict which top schools will admit the student.
Similarly, if a student is seeking merit aid – highly dependent on test scores – applies to schools where her scores are higher than the mean of the school and thus could earn her merit aid, she still is relying on factors outside her control, such as how much merit aid the school can provide that year. For this reason, she should ensure that she applies to several colleges that might give her merit aid.
The goal: create a positive dilemma so that your student can pick between great college options.
And, how many colleges should you apply to? I would have to meet you to tell you!