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Monday, January 31, 2011

BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW

gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu

Bradshaw College Consulting

(219) 663-3041

Dear Mr. Bradshaw:--My daughter is a top student and is thinking about colleges to apply to next fall.

At this point, she doesn't have a major picked out, so we are not sure if she should apply to a mix of colleges or if she should narrow her choices and focus on only a few top schools.

We are worried that because of the competition, if she doesn't apply to several colleges, she might not get into a good one. Her guidance counselor recommends applying to at least five colleges, with two as backups.

How many colleges are enough to feel safe? -- Parent

Backup Plan, College Applications Back-To-Back



Dear student -- Dear Parent: If you are interested in top colleges on the level of the Ivy League, MIT, Stanford and California-Berkeley, I recommend applying to at least 10 or 12, plus two backup schools.

The reason is, the number of applications keeps rising each year -- all across the spectrum. For example, this year, Indiana University in Bloomington, with a 73 percent admission rate, received more than 31,100 applications. A mind-boggling 57,000 applied to UCLA, with only a 23 percent admissions rate.

With those kinds of numbers, it is only prudent to apply to more colleges. And the numbers are predicted to increase in the future.

Add to the increase the number of international students applying (and paying full tuition), and it is easy to see we are creating the largest application pool ever, with each year more competitive than the previous one.

The crush of applicants to this year's freshmen class at Stanford numbered more than 32,000. Only 7 percent were accepted.

This year's freshmen class at Brown University had 30,135 applicants, and only 9 percent were admitted.

The University of Chicago received a record 19,347 applications for a freshman class of 1,400 students. In response, I tell my clients that it doesn't pay to put all their eggs in one basket -- or even six.

Data shows that only 13 percent of students in 1989 applied to six colleges or more. That percentage rose to 33 percent in 2009.

How many colleges are enough to feel safe? The answer is, get the percentages working in your favor.

Although colleges are bombarded with more applications than they can admit, many applicants aren't remotely qualified for the schools to which they are applying.

Critics say colleges are partly to blame. Many schools tout their numbers as a measure of popularity and, indirectly, academic quality. The more applications they receive, the more they can reject -- with the intention of driving up their selectivity ratings.

Others say the uncertainty of the admissions process is fueling the spike in applications. Students hear about classmates being turned down with near-perfect transcripts and test scores. Many feel they have no choice but to increase the number of colleges to which they apply as the best way to hedge their bets.

There is a downside that must be considered. The stress level soars because filling out applications on deadline must be sandwiched between homework, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. I am not exaggerating; this will be the busiest time in the high school students' lives.

The Common Application alone requires a short answer essay (maximum 150 words), a personal essay (minimum of 250 words), and an optional additional information essay (1,000 characters maximum). Keep in mind that each essay is scored. They become real tiebreakers at top colleges.

If you apply to 10 colleges using the Supplemental Application that could add as many as four essays for each college, bringing the total to 43.

Clearly, students and parents need to devise a time-management plan; otherwise, the application process quickly can get out of hand.

High school students should take the SAT and/or ACT in their junior years. The key to applying to multiple colleges is to start early; the Common Application opens Aug. 1.



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