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Schools vary in their capacity, goals, resources, and focus, leaving considerable guesswork to applicants about where they might get in. Applying to more colleges, then, is a relatively cheap way to up your chances of finding a match that satisfies three criteria:
People might wonder about the downsides of applying to more schools, such as the cost. But, while each additional application costs money, schools will often waive the fee in cases where it would create a financial hardship.
For example, Harvard waives the fee for students whom the fee would be a hardship, without any additional documentation required. If college application costs are a problem for a student or their family, waiving the fee is an option they should explore.
People wonder if rolling the dice too many times, hoping to get lucky, will land them at a school that is too hard and leave them worse off than had they applied to a smaller pool. But that is not what the evidence shows.
In one experiment, economists Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner nudged high-achieving, low-income students to apply to more selective colleges and found that their academic performance was just as good as the performance of students in the control group, who attended less selective schools on average.
People might wonder whether it’s just too time-consuming to apply to more schools. From a behavioral economics perspective, it’s easy to understand why. Even though parts of the college application process have become much easier with the common app, time costs remain a real concern, as some schools differ in, for example, essay requirements.
Applicants should think hard about the costs versus the benefits. In terms of lifetime value, graduating from college is important.
With growing concerns of college debt, applying to more schools has the added appeal of increasing the chances that students will find a strong financial aid package.
In fact, many applicants with financial needs might be surprised by some of the aid packages they are eligible to receive should they proactively seek more information.
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