I spend a lot of time emphasizing the importance of a balanced college list with my families. A good college list is between 8 and 12 schools, most of which are schools you are likely or very likely to get accepted to. A balanced college list means you’ll get more yes’s than no’s, and applying to a smaller number of colleges enables you to submit the strongest possible application to each of your schools.
Most families would agree with this in theory, but when it comes to finalizing the college list, it often leans heavily toward the reaches. But applying to college is not like playing the lottery. Applying to lots of reach schools does not increase your chances of getting into one of them, and spreading yourself across too many applications diminishes the quality of your work. Choose two or three reach schools, and do the very best job you can on those applications, so that whatever decision they make you can walk away knowing you did everything you could.
The counter to this is finding more schools you are likely to get into. I rarely have to help a student come up with reach schools, but many students struggle to find schools they can get into that they also genuinely like. Applying to a school just because you think you can get in is never a great idea; it’s always better to have options to choose from than to end up somewhere by default. An independent counselor can make thoughtful recommendations and guide your student through the research process to help them identify the academic, personal, and social qualities that are essential to them in a college. Then they can use a range of resources, like Naviance scattergrams and previous years’ admissions decisions, to identify the schools where your student is likely to get accepted.
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