college essay writing and application

The Number of Applications and Your College List

Admission to the most highly selective colleges in America isn’t impossible, but it is improbable. The odds are strongly against you. Admission rates at these institutions range from about 5% to the low teens, and almost all applicants are excellent candidates. You may be one of those who can surmount the odds and gain admission, but you’re still well advised to recognize the risk in advance and to be prepared for it. That’s why we at IvySelect advocate spreading your risk among many schools, an approach that increases the likelihood that you’ll be admitted to an Ivy League or other top-tier school.

In the early stages of our engagement, your IvySelect college admissions counselor works with you to develop an in-depth personal profile, including your academic record, interests, educational and career goals, talents, accomplishments, preferences, and strengths. Using this database together with our knowledge and experience, we prepare the strategic plan that best suits you as an individual. Among the principal uses of this plan is to guide you in building a list of those schools to which you’ll apply because they fit you best.

We recommend a target list of 12 or 13 schools. Less than this may insufficiently spread your risk, especially if you’re relying too heavily on one particular school to come through for you.

The Common App has core components that facilitate the submission of applications to many schools. Some students, perhaps seeking relief from acceptance anxiety, apply to 20+ institutions. This may seem to be a situation of, “Why not? What harm can it do?”, but it is possible to overdo it. Submitting too many applications to top-tier schools can work to your disadvantage. It may cause you to spread your effort too thin, thus weakening your applications in vital areas such as supplemental essays and demonstrated interest.

Each of your supplemental essays, which are essays required by most top-tier schools in addition to the App essay, must be responsive to each school’s unique set of prompts. They need to be crafted with extreme care and are best if they’re tailored to satisfy one of the school’s identified needs.

Demonstrated interest, in the form of interviews, campus visits, and similar activities, is an important admissions factor at many elite institutions. As reported in the New York Times, Marie Bingham, director of college counseling at the Greenhill School in Texas, observes that, “You can’t be a competitive, strong applicant without demonstrating interest, and you can’t do that at 25 schools.”

Our clients aspires to attend an elite institution, so we at IvySelect advocate building an unbalanced list of 12 or 13 schools so that it encompasses approximately eight reach, three match, and two safety schools.

Let’s define what we mean by match, safety, and reach schools.


A match school is one at which your academic record (GPA adjusted for AP classes, SAT/ACT and SAT Subject Test scores, and class rank) falls within the middle 33% of past freshmen classes. It’s reasonable to expect acceptance by match schools, although it’s still somewhat risky due to fluctuations in application volumes and the quality of applicants from year to year.


A safety is a school at which your academic record equals the top 10-25% of past freshmen classes. You should feel confident that you’d be admitted to your safety schools. In our role as advisor in the development of your target list, IvySelect makes sure that your safety schools appeal to you.


A reach school is one at which there is at least the potential for admission if your academic qualifications put you in the range of highly qualified students applying to that university and you have exhibited high-level talents or characteristics that make you an interesting candidate. Some elite schools have such low acceptance rates that they represent a reach, in effect, for everyone who applies to them.

IvySelect researches universities to develop a college list with great fit schools for each of our students… We follow college admissions news closely, attend association events and college fairs, visit campuses, and speak directly with college administrators. In this manner, we remain well informed about elite schools. This puts IvySelect in a position to assist you in making informed choices about the schools on your list.

IvySelect guides you in clarifying how to maximize your competitive stature to Ivy League and other top-tier universities on your college list. Working together, we will help you stand out among the highly qualified applicants applying to elite schools.

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