20 colleges are too many to apply to

The expenses involved in applying to colleges have accelerated along with tuition costs. Sending out college applications costs between $25 and $75 apiece, a rate that goes up every year. The lower cost is for most state colleges while the higher processing fee goes to some private institutions. A few beneficent colleges are thoughtful enough to waive the application fee for online submission, thus debunking the myth it is better to send in one hard copy, which then needs to be recopied for each member of the admissions committee. Yet, despite the costs, many applicants apply to more and more colleges, sometimes 20 or even more.

Such students often make random choices, making the entire process more difficult for everyone involved. High school counselors who help students coordinate their applications are overwhelmed. Teachers that write recommendations must send out so many duplicates, and admissions departments at colleges are inundated with paperwork. The Internet and the use of the Common Application, Apply Net and other such programs are part of the problem. These helpful sites have made applying to college seem as though a completed application is just one click away.

Glossy Web sites advertising colleges and sites that profess inside information about schools add to the frenzy. One overzealous parent became addicted to the Web site called College Confidential, which advertises itself as having the busiest discussion community about colleges on the Web. Whenever this parent read so-called inside information about a school, she added that school to her child's Common Application.

The ridiculous nature of the "inside information" on these sites only serves to connect people with limited knowledge of a college, and erroneous information is passed on as genuine. Nothing is gained, meanwhile, time required to make a truly thoughtful selection of schools is lost.

Twenty-five years ago, high school seniors applied to four or five carefully selected schools at the most. Each application took hours to complete on a manual typewriter. One mistake meant throwing out the application and starting from scratch, unless one were adept at using whiteout or the little typewriter erasable strips that were essential supplies. Well, those days are now long gone. Granted, students are anxious. They are aware of the rankings and statistics about how many students are accepted or rejected at given schools. This information is published as scientific in magazines such as News of the World Report and by mega-testing organizations such as the Princeton Review and Stanley Kaplan. These organizations feed the frenzy and make big bucks in the process.

One local high school has a graph that illustrates a student's chance of being accepted to a specific school compared with the grades and SAT scores of other students in that school. The sample is completely unscientific. Pity the poor student who gets a red instead of a green "go for it" dot! This graph is so limited it does not take into consideration student participation in extracurricular activities or sports or other such pertinent information.

The College Board, itself one of giants in the admissions marketplace, offers its own list of opinions why 20 applications is too many. The suggestions it offers are valuable and should be taken seriously by prospective students and their families. Applicants should be aware of snap or fast-track applications. Some schools send applications that have not been requested to promising students, a designation based on SAT scores. They waive application fees, the essay and even teacher recommendations, promising students they will be accepted within a month.

These applications make it too easy to apply to colleges, which the applicant has not researched. A better use of time than the snap application would be to graph a careful selection of college with decisions based on information about departments, class size, student retention and cost.

Careful planning would decrease rejections. Colleges are rejecting many students because the applicant pool has gone up so drastically. Applying to 20 schools actually cuts back chances of being accepted to the one school where an applicant may really fit. With so many potential applicants, colleges have no need to negotiate financial aid packages. If one student decides not to attend because they did not receive enough aid, another applicant will take their place.

Rather then sending out 20 applications in an effort to cover as much ground as possible, time would be better spent studying which merit and need-based scholarships are available at carefully selected colleges. Applying for these awards is well worth the time invested.

College admissions counselors can detect the essays of students who are truly interested in their school. These students carefully structure their responses to the written portions of the applications. They show knowledge of specific programs, and many have actually contacted the departments in which they have an interest before deciding to apply.

Just one year ago, I worked with a student who had his heart set on attending Emory University. His grades and SAT scores were a little below what it generally requires. However, he was determined. He made multiple visits to the campus, got to know admissions officers and applied Early Decision. His informed decision to apply and passion for the school was evident to those who read his application. I am happy to report he was accepted and is one happy freshman. What of the applicants who are accepted to almost all of the 20 randomly chosen schools? How do they choose an appropriate college?

Must they visit all the campuses at the end of the senior year when most seniors are enjoying themselves and planning for graduation? Sadly, making haphazard college choices is likely to be continued in the foreseeable future as next year's anxious applicants realize filling out a college application is just one Internet click away.