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How to decide which colleges to apply to

Now’s the time to be selective.

Only apply to schools you would be happy to attend.

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If you or someone you know is a high school senior (or the parent of a senior) you’ve heard the horror stories — students applying to 10 or more schools and planning dozens of visits in the hopes of getting into at least one.

One admissions official says everyone should take a deep breath and rethink their strategy. “More applications don’t necessarily mean better odds,” says Bob McCaig, vice president for enrollment management at Monmouth University. “The common American family is probably thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, my student isn’t applying to 12 schools, should he be?’ and hearing those stories feeds the frenzy.”

Instead of applying to every school out there, McCaig suggests that students and their families try to be a bit more strategic about how they go about the selection process. He shares these suggestions on how to have a (relatively) stress-free experience.

Start as early as you can: “If you are a junior, you should start doing online and physical visits,” advises McCaig. “Start talking to teachers, counselors and friends and use that summer to start doing visits.” Think about what you want As you start to do your visits, start asking yourself about your interests. How big of a school are you looking for? Do you want to go to a public, private or faith-based college? How far do you want to be from your hometown?

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Consider work/life balance: “Look at the academic nature of the school,” says McCaig. “Does it fit your range of interests?” It’s also important to consider if you’d be happy if you eventually decide to switch majors.

Apply to schools that you like: Most important of all, eliminate schools from your list that you know you’ll be miserable at. “Students should only apply to places they would be happy at,” McCaig reminds us.

Be realistic about your chances: Look at the average SAT and ACT scores for each of the schools you are applying to. Do you fit that range? “If the average score is 400 points higher than your score, that’s not a stretch, that’s a waste of time,” McCaig points out.

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

 
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