Applications Considerations

Extracurricular activities: there are conflicting views about student participation in extracurricular activities. A predominant position is that colleges were after "well-rounded bodies of individual specialists", suggesting that it is better for a student to be deeply involved in one or two activities rather than nine or ten superficially.

Applicants who achieve a leadership position in an extracurricular activity are regarded more highly than applicants who merely participate in a bunch of activities. Jobs are generally viewed favorably by admissions committees, including even part-time service jobs such as flipping hamburgers, since it suggests that a student has learned to handle time management, to accept responsibility, and develop people skills. A less dominant position was that it is helpful to be involved in a "variety of activities", including jobs, internships, and community service. Some universities, such as the University of California, have formal programs for spot-checking applications for accuracy, such as sending a follow-up letter to the student asking for proof about an extracurricular activity or summer job. Advisors recommend that extracurricular activities should never interfere with a student's overall academic performance. A student with lots of extracurricular activities senior year, but little in preceding years, particularly when the essays focus on the extracurricular activities, are suspect; it suggests an applicant is being coached, and may reflect negatively on an application. Advisors warn against "overscheduling" students with too many activities or courses.

Number of applications: there are differing views on how many schools a student should apply to. Several reports suggest that applying to too many schools caused unnecessary stress and expense, and hampers a student from targeting applications to a few select schools. But other advisors suggest that applying to more schools increases overall chances for acceptance. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest applying to eight to ten schools is best, and that applying to too many schools is counterproductive. There are reports that the average number of schools that students are applying to has been increasing, perhaps because of greater use of the Common Application. In 2008, applications to Harvard University had increased to a record number at 27,278, a 19% increase from the year before. One effect of these numerous applications is to lower the average yield of colleges, which dropped from 46% to 38% in 2001 according to one account.