Applying to college and the myth of the magic number

Published December 19th, 2013

If you're applying to college this year, you may have heard of the myth of the magic number: the secret number of colleges you should apply to that will guarantee you an acceptance letter in the spring.  If you do a quick search, you’ll find that the magic number can be as small as 2 and as high as  20. Needless to say, it can be a little confusing.

The real question you should be asking yourself when you're applying to college shouldn’t be How many? but instead Where would I be happy? The point isn’t just that you get into any program, it’s that you get into a program where you’ll be happy and successful. To make sure that happens, you want to first figure out what those programs are, and then put them in these categories: Dream schools, Best Fit schools, and Safety schools.

Dream Schools: These are the schools you’ve wanted to go to since you first fell in love with the arts. Programs that fall into this category typically have the most competitive audition processes for performing arts, involving a prescreen audition, in-person group audition, and/or in-person solo audition. For visual arts, you’ll need to submit multiple portfolio samples. These schools also have the lowest acceptance rates. Definitely don’t underestimate yourself. Apply to a couple of schools in this category. You’ll never know if you don’t at least try.

Best Fit Schools: These schools still have competitive performing and visual arts programs and will still require an in-person and prescreen audition or portfolio samples, but they’ll typically have higher acceptance rates than dream schools. Ideally, you want the majority of your applications to be to programs in this category. Spend a lot of time visiting these schools and getting to know the faculty.

Safety Schools: These schools are not as competitive but still have solid arts programs. You should be 99.9% positive that you’ll be accepted into these programs and that you could see yourself there. Obviously, they won’t have all the bells and whistles that a dream school arts program would have, but it’s important that these schools still offer most of what you want out of your education.

The truth is, the magic number doesn’t exist. In fact, it’s easier and more manageable for you and those helping you with your college applications if you don’t think in terms of numbers. The end-goal of applying to a college is to get into a program where you’ll be happy. This is especially true for the arts. Factors like average class size, location, and faculty can make all the difference in not only your education, but also your career. So don’t get caught up in the numbers. Take the time to determine what’s best for you and your goals, and the rest should fall into place.

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