Is Applying to College a Time for Dreaming or Being Safe?

Is Applying to College a Time for Dreaming or Being Safe?College application season is swinging into high gear as high school seniors narrow down their possible college choices. They understand the different types of college applications, know that the Common App is already available, and are working on turning out stupendous essays.

One big problem is deciding how many colleges to include on the application list. Some students apply to lots of colleges because the Common App makes it easy, but there can be a high dollar cost to this approach. Other students only apply to their favorite college, knowing that it is the one they want to attend. This can be dangerous if the student is not accepted, resulting in a mad scramble as the student tries to find another appropriate college.

Potential colleges should include those with a solid academic reputation in the proposed field of study, a diverse and interesting campus life, and a degree of affordability based on traditional financial aid and the parents’ contributions. While it might seem safer to apply only to schools with a realistic possibility of admission, it is still okay to dream. One strategy is to include at least one of the three types of admission possibilities on the list of potential colleges:

 • Safety: Most colleges publish an academic range for their average freshman student. If your grades exceed that range, then you will have a good probability of being accepted into that school. Make sure it’s a college your family can afford and one you’ll enjoy, because it might be the one you end up attending.

 • Target: A target school is the middle-of-the-road option for most students. Their grades likely fall within the academic criteria, but it might be a bit more of a stretch to get admitted. Perhaps the school has higher admissions standards, or receives a lot of applications. While it’s not unreasonable to expect that you will be admitted to these schools, there are no guarantees. That is why it is important to have at least one safety school on your list.

 • Reach: Some students dream of getting into a particular college even if they don’t quite measure up academically, or they’re not sure that it can be affordable. Talk to your parents and discuss the reasons why this school is so important to you. Together you might be able to come up with a plan in case you get admitted. There might also be something in your life or resume which could stick out to an admissions officer who is trying to create the perfect freshman class balance. It could be a long shot, but sometimes dreams do come true.

After you apply to your selected colleges, you will receive a notice of acceptance and an offer of financial aid from those that want to welcome you into their student body. This is the time to carefully compare offers, and balance financial reality with emotional dreaming.