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College Knowledge Q&A

I get lots of mail from high schoolers and parents asking about the various aspects of the college process. Now and then, here in my blog, I'll trot out some of the questions and then answer them. Caveat: There's no way I'll be able to cover every possible aspect of the questioner's needs. If you're looking for the ultimate in college process analysis, by all means visit the College Confidential discussion forum.

So, let's see what's in the mailbag . . .

Question: A friend of mine says he's considering applying to eight colleges. I think that's too many. What's the right number?

Answer: Your friend may not be very certain about his chances of getting into certain schools. He may be trying to make sure he gets in somewhere. There's some logic to the "many applications" theory.

My personal preference, though, is to have four solid candidates by the end of the junior year. This provides for flexibility and financial aid comparisons.

College selection is an important decision, not only for the student but also for the family. That's why you need to spend some serious time considering your options. For students at the highest levels of academic success (top 5 percent in class rank and National Merit contenders, for example), six candidate schools may be more appropriate. For general purposes, though, four good candidates will serve you well, as a minimum.

You must have a strategy to properly make your selections. The three categories of candidate schools are: reach, reasonable ("ballpark" or "match"), and safety. So-called reach schools are those that might not

admit you. Your qualifications for admission may be less than adequate or the competition may be too keen. Reach schools are ideal, if you can get in. If you have six candidates, then two should be a reach. Four candidates should include one reach.

Reasonable schools are those to which you're sure you can gain admission. These can even be very competitive schools, if you're a top-flight candidate. A candidate is reasonable if you fit within the general admission criteria the school publishes. Caution, though. Meeting all admission criteria on paper is no guarantee of admission. There are intangibles, such as your profile and other less-obvious factors. Where you live can even work for or against you. So, be very certain of your chances before you rate a candidate as reasonable. With six candidates, make two or three reasonable. With four, two will do.

Safeties are just that--an almost certain sure thing. A candidate becomes a safety when profiles of that school show little chance of rejection. Example: It has an acceptance rate of over 85 percent. Give some thought to safeties. You probably won't have to go there, but if you do, make sure you can get courses you want. One safety is enough.

Once you have your list, do more research, visit all the campuses, and apply. Good luck.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.