Can you submit too many college applications?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailI only applied to one college, and I opted for early decision. There’s no way I’ll let my daughter do the same thing.

Recognizing how much the world has changed is key to getting our kids launched right. These days, a half dozen applications may not be enough, as I write in this week’s Reuters column, “How many college applications is too many?” College consultants say there’s a rising level of unpredictability to admissions, which means you may want more than two safety schools, two matches and two reaches.

One issue I didn’t get into for lack of space was the public vs. private school aspect. Private school students typically have access to counselors who are essentially dedicated to getting them into good colleges. These counselors usually stay up to date not only on colleges’ statistics but also on their changing needs (that is, what they’ll be recruiting for next year). Private schools often subscribe to services like Naviance, which help students see exactly where they stand relative to the stats (GPA, class rank, test scores) of a college’s existing student body. With intel like that, private school students (and families who hire private consultants who offer the same services) can get a pretty good idea at where they have a good shot at getting in and where they don’t.

Public school students, by contrast, may be assigned a counselor who has 400 other kids in her caseload plus duties that have nothing to do with college admissions. Families may be on their own in trying to figure out where to apply.

The good news is that most colleges still accept most applicants–the Ivies and other highly selective colleges are a small fraction of the total number of higher learning institutions in the U.S. Also, there are sites such as Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s The College Solution and to help sort through the options.

Still, if you’re not getting help in winnowing down your application list, it can make sense to err on the side of applying to too many colleges rather than too few.

Does your kid need expensive SAT prep?

iStock_000014485809SmallBack when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I bought a fat paperback test prep book to help me study for the SAT (which, back then, was still known as the Scholarship Aptitude Test). I didn’t buy the book until after I’d already taking the SAT the first time. After studying, I took the test again–and did worse.

Not that I suffered for this experiment. I scored high enough to become a National Merit Scholar, which meant big bucks for college.

I recently asked a friend my age who was also a National Merit Scholar how he prepared for the test. He vaguely remembered being taught a few test-taking strategies in school. But that’s it.

The world’s changed in the past few decades. College is a lot more expensive and elite schools are a lot more competitive. High scores give kids an edge not just for admission but for all-important merit scholarships. Which is why SAT test prep is pretty much a given among upper-income parents. Even less affluent parents are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars trying to boost their kids’ scores, as I write in my Reuters column this week, “Resist the urge to go overboard with test prep.” Not investing in test prep feels like a gamble that could leave your kid trampled in the dust.

These parents aren’t foolish or deluded. Scores matter, and most teenagers could use some help. My column mentions some free resources, and I highly recommend reading Debbie Stier’s book, “The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT.” Even if you can’t afford private tutors, you can do a lot to help your get your child ready for the test.