Grace Oberhofer decided to apply to an even dozen colleges. “I wanted to have options,” says the 2011 graduate of Tacoma School of the Arts in Washington. She got them: Though wait-listed by first choice Harvard, she was accepted at Tulane, Oberlin, Brandeis, Duke, Sarah Lawrence, and Tufts, where she is a sophomore this fall. But she was really taken aback by all the time and effort it took to figure out how to present herself to each and write all those essays while “making sure my schoolwork was going well and still trying to hang out with my friends on weekends and not be stuck at my computer all the time.”
Indeed, a recent study by the College Board’s Task Force on Admissions in the 21st Century showed that, not surprisingly, the vast majority of students report that the more colleges they apply to, the more stressful the experience is. Perhaps because of that pressure, overapplying can actually hurt your chances. “It’s tough to put together a personal, genuine application that shows commitment to a particular school when you’re applying to 20 different places,” says Jeff Pilchiek, the director of guidance at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. “It’s much better to be an exceptional applicant at six schools than an average applicant at 12 or 20.” Westlake students are encouraged to apply to a well-researched, well-tailored list of five to seven “good fit” colleges, including a mix of reach, target, and safety schools.
Judiciousness is best even if you’re using the Common Application, which shouldn’t be viewed as a one-size-fits-all exercise. “The questions tend to be rather generic and often don’t elicit the most creative or helpful responses, but students need to guard against that,” cautions Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College in California.
Excerpted from “7 Ways to Stand Out” in U.S.News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2013. Available at usnews.com/college13. Copyright © 2012 U.S.News & World Report, L.P. Used by permission of U.S.News & World Report, L.P. All rights reserved. U.S. News allows republication of this excerpt without specific written permission or payment of royalties, provided that the excerpt is republished in its entirety without any modifications and includes this notice. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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