Summer College Checklist #9: Balance Your College List

Finding a balanced approach not only to college applications, but also how you live life is really important to us at Teen LAUNCH. In fact, it’s one of our core values.

When we address the topic of a “balanced” college list, we think about that balance in two respects.

First, it’s important, no matter what kind of application cycle this year happens to be, that you come out the other side with great college options. That’s a matter of balancing the selectivity and affordability of the colleges on your list.

But there is a second piece to the balancing equation that many families often overlook: it’s just as important that you consider your ability to balance your application work with all your other obligations during senior year.

So while you want to have a range and variety of colleges you’ll apply to, you want to make sure that the application workload is manageable.

We’ve seen plenty of cases of burnout in the early months of senior year, particularly for families who view admissions as a numbers game. Believe us when we say that first-semester burnout isn’t pretty.

Our recommendation is to submit 6 - 10 applications in total. That doesn’t necessarily limit you to 10 colleges; if you’re applying to the University of California, for example, that single application can go to as many of the eight undergraduate campuses as you select.

Any college that does not require its own supplemental writings also does not count as part of that total, if you're applying through an application platform such as the Common App.

You want a range of selectivity across the schools you apply to—we suggest a minimum of two likely, two target, and two reach schools on their list:

  • Likely schools (which I also refer to as "Anchor" colleges) are those where you have a better than 70% chance of getting into.

  • Target schools are those where your chances fall somewhere in the middle 50% (better than 25%, less than 75%).

  • Reach schools are those where your chances are under 30% of getting in.

To best gauge where you stand in terms of your chances, we recommend two great tools:

If your high school subscribes to Naviance Family Connection, make sure to check out the Scattergram feature to compare your GPA and test scores to classmates who applied to the same schools in the past.

Then, anyone can create a free profile at It's a company that transmits official transcripts from high schools to colleges, and they'll use the information you input to your profile to estimate your personal chances of getting in.

Predicting your chances is never an exact science, but if you can cover the range of admissions rates, you’ll be able to proceed through fall with much more peace of mind!

We hope this is a useful primer to the Summer College Checklist! We're here to help your student feel motivated and supported as they gear up for college application season and senior year.

If you're looking for personal support with college applications, check out our summer intensive workshop Carve Your Own Path, and don't hesitate to reach out to us with questions!