How Many Colleges Should Seniors Apply To?

People tend to like answers with hard-and-fast numbers, but there really isn’t one to answer this application question. To satisfy that craving, though, I’ll say that it’s generally advised that seniors have 5-8 applications to submit to colleges.


Remember that the number of colleges your teen applies to isn’t the important thing – it’s making sure that the colleges are a good fit that really matters, and that the list is very well-balanced overall.

Let’s start there

The College List – Finding the Right Balance

The goal is to be sure that your teen is applying to a mix of colleges across three main categories:

“Safety” schools

These are colleges that your teen will have no problem getting into based on academic standings. Your teen is above average as compared to other students who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 safety schools.“Range” schools

These are colleges that are in the same range academically and typically admit students with similar standings. Think of your teen as being average academically as compared to other freshmen at the school. Consider applying to 2-4 range schools.

“Reach” schools

These are colleges that will be more of a challenge to get into with your teen’s qualifications, but they’re not entirely out of reach. Your student’s academic profile is in the bottom 25% of those who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 reach schools.

Know Where You Stand

Your teen needs to take a look at their own academic profile, which includes GPA, class rank, and ACT or SAT scores.

Once you have that, head over to a site like College Board’s BigFuture to check out what specific colleges post about what they’re looking for statistics-wise within these markers. This will help determine whether the college is a safety, range or reach school by how they measure up to the average admitted student.Remember that it’s not too late for your teen to upgrade their standings in comparison to others at these colleges! Things like getting tutoring, enrolling in a test prep program, and getting deeper into extracurriculars can help make them more marketable for the schools she’s considering.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

What Colleges Actually Mean By “Holistic Review”

Let’s talk about holistic review.

My guess is that you’ve already seen these words on a few college applications or websites. And while you might get the gist of what it means, you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering what “holistic review” is and how it relates to your student.Basically, holistic review is when a school makes a decision about a student based on their application as a whole, rather than solely on their academic background.

While grades and test scores still matter (a lot), the applicant pool is increasingly competitive each year. Because of this competition, it’s no longer enough for colleges to base their admissions process solely on a student’s academic achievements.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, this is really great news for students! In addition to their grades, students can really focus on highlighting their interests/extracurriculars/volunteer work/jobs/special circumstances/etc and it will all factor into the admissions decision!Translation: You can stand out to admissions offices by telling them what makes you, you!

Sounds way easier than stressing about whether your academic background will be enough to get you through, right?

So what’s considered in this holistic review process? Here’s a general list of things that can be considered, but really just about anything can factor in!

  • Class Rank
  • Academic Background/GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT)
  • Achievements, Awards, Honors Orgs
  • Special Accomplishments, Work, and Service (Both in and outside of your high school!)
  • Essays (This is where you can REALLY show them your personality. Letting them get to know you and hear your voice in your essays is huge!)
  • Special Circumstances (This is really helpful if you’ve experienced anything that might have affected your academic performance, including socioeconomic status, a single parent home, family responsibilities, overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, language spoken in the your home, health-related issues for you or your family, learning differences, and the list goes on!)
  • Recommendations (These typically aren’t required, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few from your teachers, organization leaders, or other reputable leaders who can vouch for you as a person/student/worker/etc.)
  • Competitiveness of Your Major (Don’t forget to take into account the popularity of your major at each school you’re applying for as this can seriously impact the competition between applicants.)

That’s A LOT of information that goes into an admissions decision.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged by everything on this list, but it’s important to remember that holistic review can only benefit your student!

The purpose is to cover as much ground as possible within a short application – kind of like a first date.

And, very much like a first date, it’s just as important to relax and be yourself as it is to put your best foot forward.

Let’s continue the discussion! What are your thoughts on holistic review? Please leave a comment below!

What Is Summer Melt?

It’s summer!!

It’s finally heating up in most places and you might feel like you’re figuratively melting. But did you know that ”summer melt” means something very different for colleges?Each year, colleges require students to submit an enrollment deposit to enroll as freshmen in the fall (usually by May 1, but this year June 1 for some colleges). After that deposit deadline passes, colleges count up the number of deposits they have and decide whether they need more students to fill their freshman class. If so, this may lead them to admit students who are on their waitlist!

Although those newly admitted students probably have already sent deposits to other colleges, they’ll now tell the other colleges that they’re no longer going to attend. Which leaves that college with an empty seat, and so on and so forth. That’s summer melt for colleges – students, who had originally sent their deposit, deciding later to withdraw their enrollment and causing the college to fall short of their freshman class goals.This is especially important to keep in mind right now as the pandemic has created anxiety of all kinds, including for enrollment managers. Predictions of students deferring college enrollment or staying closer to home has admission directors eyeing their waitlists. Counselors are anticipating students may hear from more colleges about waitlists and other offers even late into the summer. 

What does summer melt mean for you?

Well, it means that if you were on the waitlist at a school, you might get admitted. And although unlikely, it’s possible that you could get a revised financial aid package from a school that admitted you.

This may prompt you to rethink your enrollment choice. However, unless it’s an admission offer from your dream college or a truly unbeatable scholarship award, you are probably better off sticking with your original deposit. Remember that you spent a lot of time weighing your options when you made that initial decision.Don’t second guess yourself unless there is a very compelling reason! Stick with what your gut tells you and look forward to freshman year with excitement.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

How to Get the Most out of College Visits

May is a popular month to plan college visits for juniors, and even for sophomores. Every college visit I went on with my kids was really eye-opening and motivating for them.

Seeing what colleges are like first-hand can help to spark excitement in your teen and a healthy anticipation for what’s to come. But even more importantly, experiencing colleges in person is the very best way I know to determine which schools are most appealing based on their personal preferences and which schools would, ultimately, be a good fit.

Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of visiting colleges with your teen:

(And even before beginning, print out your free College Visit Checklist to help your teen keep track of what to do on each visit and how each school ranks compared to the others.)

The Best Times to Visit

I recommend that students try to visit between Monday-Thursday during a school week, because the best days to see what a campus is like are the days that classes are in session and things are bustling.

Of course, constraints and real life happen. If you can only visit colleges during off-peak times, you should certainly still visit! You’ll gain a lot from just seeing the campus and be able to get a sense of college life there. In fact, my youngest daughter and I couldn’t schedule a time other than a Friday or Saturday due to other obligations at home. And she still found the perfect fit!

So much for following my own rules….

Arrange for a Tour

This is typically as simple as visiting the school’s website and registering for a tour within the admissions pages. You can even Google the college name and the word “visit” or “tour,” and you’ll find just what you’re looking for.

Most campus tours start with an information session, where you’ll learn a little about the college before you start touring. Then, you’ll go on a campus tour with (most likely) a current student at the school.

In addition to simply joining a tour, you can arrange for other experiences on campus, like:

  • Sitting in on a class
  • Meeting with an admissions representative
  • Meeting with a financial aid representative
  • Exploring academic departments
  • Sitting in on a club or sports practice session
  • Eating in the cafeteria
  • Visiting the student union
  • …even spending the night in a dorm!

Contact the admissions offices of the colleges you and your teen are visiting early on to ask about arranging for these special experiences. They’re absolutely worth it!

Before You Get There

Your teen really should do some homework to learn about the colleges they’re visiting ahead of time. This will allow some time for them to formulate questions that will help them understand more about how the school might be a good fit. At the very least, they should do some online research and talk to anyone they may know who’s attended.

Print out a map of the campus prior to leaving and figure out where the admissions office is. That’ll likely be your starting point.

What to Do While You’re There

  • Be sure your teen is taking notes and photos to record things they like or dislike about the campus, or anything else that will be helpful to remember later on. The College Visit Checklist will help them do just that. Especially if you visit a bunch of colleges, these details can be easy to forget!
  • Campus tour guides are often paid to make sure their college looks and sounds amazing, so in addition to the tour, you both should walk through campus a bit on your own and your teen should talk with random students on campus. Asking current students what they really like about the school and what they don’t like is a great way to get some very candid feedback and insight.
  • Grab a student newspaper while you’re there, too. They’re great publications for learning a bit more about the feel of campus and things that are of interest to the school’s students. They tend to be more objective than what you might hear from a tour guide, as well.

Learn All You Can

The goal of a college visit is for your teen to get a sense of how they’ll feel when attending the school. They need to make sure it’s a comfortable place for them; just the right fit. Many times they’ll have a gut reaction when visiting a campus, either good, bad or indifferent. Make sure they pay attention to that in addition to all of the other information you both gather. That initial reaction does matter!

If it’s not possible to visit a school that your teen is interested in, many colleges offer virtual tours on their websites – these can give you a great glimpse of what you’d experience in person. A great resource for this is – just enter the college name in the search area and you’re set! Also, be sure to research the heck out of each school online to learn more.

Enjoy those visits!

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

4 Steps to Finding the Right College Fit

In July 2015, the Washington Post noted that there were about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States.


It’s no wonder, then, that the first question about college that most parents have for me is, “How in the world do we help guide Johnny to know which colleges are right for him?”

It can seem overwhelming, but there is a way to start your son or daughter on the right track.  

Your teen should:

  1. Talk to the high school guidance counselor early on.

Start this as a sophomore or early in the junior year. Students who make these appointments without being beckoned make a good impression. An even better impression is made by students who meet with their counselors regularly and invite their parents along. With hundreds of kids to one counselor in many high schools, the students who make the extra effort get the best support.

  1. Use online tools to find potential college matches.

Check out an online search engine tool such as BigFuture. Your teen can plug in personal preferences and find out which colleges meet his or her personal criteria.

  1. Check out the book Fiske Guide to Colleges.

This one is a favorite of mine for learning about colleges on a more intimate level. It doesn’t have all U.S. schools in there (there are about 300 institutions listed) but it’s got a terrific selection. A couple of great features include the “Overlap” sections for each school which introduces students to colleges that are similar but maybe that they hadn’t heard of yet. It also includes direct comments from students with their impressions of each school.

  1. Talk to friends and family about their alma maters.

Your teen should take advantage of who they know (and who you know) to ask about the colleges that friends and family have graduated from – what they liked, didn’t like, what was memorable. And, most importantly, would their trusted friend recommend it?


Finding colleges that are a good fit is the first step in the planning process. How’s your college search going with your teen? Leave a comment below!