This post was written by Samantha Linder, an incoming freshman at Smith College. It was originally published on The Prospect, a student-run college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Twitter.
My story of applying to colleges is a bit different than most. Not because I am some exceptional student that was accepted by every school that I applied to, but because of the sheer number of colleges I applied to. I applied to exactly 43 colleges/universities, the overwhelming majority of which were reaches that involved supplements and interviews. When people hear just how many colleges I applied to, the most common response is that I must be crazy. With follow-up questions often including "Do you regret it?" and "How could you possibly afford all those applications?" The short answers are no, I'm not crazy, I don't regret it and I made it financially work. The long answer is my somewhat unorthodox story of the college admissions journey which I am sharing in the hopes of others understanding not only the benefits of applying to so many colleges, but also the disadvantages.
I still remember when it actually hit me that I could not afford college. When it was finally time to talk with my mother about the cost of college/financing my education, I had to face the reality. My mom, a single mother, had been unable to save anything for college and could not realistically contribute more than a few thousand dollars a year. That may not seem bad, but when all of the schools that you are interested in are generally around 60 thousand dollars a year, it is terrifying. After way too much time researching the whole process, I found only a few viable solutions to funding my higher education. My options included going to an in-state public university, which still would not be very affordable (I live in a state that has very expensive public universities), getting a lot of merit from a safety or getting into a reach that met 100 percent of demonstrated need. That is when I set a goal of getting into a reach, the only way to avoid major debt and get the college experience I had been dreaming of.
Now to fast forward and quickly summarize the rest of my junior year. I was fortunate enough to be named a College Prep Scholar through QuestBridge which led to me attending one of their conferences and being introduced to even more great schools. My mother took me on visits to various colleges within an eight-hour radius and I began adding more and more schools to my list. At the end of junior year, my list had grown to 55 schools, which is when I finally decided to stop looking for more colleges.
If you paid attention to the title you probably realize that I ultimately cut 12 schools from my list. This was achieved through the combination of my eliminating any school that I could not see myself being happy at and my reducing the number of safeties (I had started with five safeties). Nonetheless, it was quite a challenge applying to 43!
Applying to so many colleges was a complicated task. I had to find ways around the Common App's limit of 20 schools, fee waivers to cover the expensive application fees (which can run upwards of almost $100), writing supplements for most of the schools, and developing a list of schools that not only could I see myself happy at, but that could also be a financial reality. This was all happening while juggling four APs and my extracurriculars.
The biggest cost of the applications for me was time. I had been procrastinating on most of my supplements because I had applied early decision to a school and did not want to deal with more supplements until I heard back from that school in the hopes that I had been accepted and would not be applying to any more schools. I received my letter of rejection just a little shy of over two weeks until the regular decision deadline for most schools. My winter break included multiple days where I spent eight-plus hours working on the supplements. There was also the time commitment of researching each school, editing essays, and participating in alumni interviews for the majority of them.
When late March finally arrived and the college decisions started coming in, I realized that all of the time was worth it. I had been accepted to schools that I thought would reject me, waitlisted at schools that I thought would accept me and fortunate enough to be in a situation where two of my acceptances were from schools that met 100 percent of demonstrated need. It was a hard choice, picking the school that I would not only spend the next four years of my life, but a school in which I felt I would be challenged and could be a contributing member of the community, but I did and I am so incredibly happy with my choice (I am now proud to call myself a Smithie).
If I had to do senior year over again (though I am quite happy that I do not have to) I would still apply to 43 schools. The college admission process is in many ways unpredictable and when you are dependent on financial aid applying to so many schools may just be the best option. I do not recommend applying to so many schools just to see if you can get in because the truth is that it is an absurd amount of work, but sometimes it may just work out (it certainly did for me).
In the end I picked Smith because it was where I saw myself being happiest. Yes, they have the rigorous classes that I crave, a stellar neuroscience program that I desire, a beautiful and welcoming campus and so many of the other attributes I looked for in a school. But I saw myself being happiest there because of the amazing community that I am so happy and proud to be a part of. So yes, I did apply to 43 colleges, but it was worth it, and I promise I am not crazy!