What does a “balanced” college list look like?

I wrote in yesterday’s post that I’d never heard a student say, “I wish I didn’t apply to so many schools where my chances of admission were good.” I was trying to point out just how risky it is to compose a list that’s reach school heavy (one in which the bulk of your schools are those where your chances of admission aren’t strong).

But I didn’t do a good job of describing what a “balanced list” is. Reader Ted from Chicago pointed out that some students today apply to 20-25 colleges just to make sure they have options. The fact that an applicant may have a good chance of admission at that many schools doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to apply to so many. Applying indiscriminately isn’t a good strategy, either.

There’s no magic number of colleges to which you should apply. Collegewise students generally apply to an average of about eight schools—1-2 reaches, 1-2 safeties, and the rest somewhere in the middle. A good place to start testing the balance of your list is to ask yourself these questions:

*Do you like every school on your list?  I mean really like them, enough that you’d seriously consider attending any one of them? (It’s not a perfect list if you’d rather go to juvenile hall than go to your safety school).

*Do you have a thoughtful answer to the question, “Why are you applying to this school?”

*Do you have at least one safety school?

*Do you have at least one financial safety school where you’re sure to be admitted and that your family could pay for even if you didn’t get the financial aid you were hoping for?

*Has your high school counselor seen and approved of your list? Don’t make the excuse that your counselor doesn’t know you. She’s not applying to college—you are. Visit her, help her get to know you, and invite her feedback on your list.

If you can say yes to each of those questions, you’re on your way to a balanced list.