Many parents hope that their kids will someday be able to choose the college of their dreams. As we watch them stumble, struggle, and succeed through their high school years, we hope that all their toiling will be recognized. But realistically, not everyone can get into an Ivy League school. Instead, it’s sometimes more practical to hope that our kids will simply end up someplace that welcomes, challenges, and nurtures them and their unique talents.

 

So what happens when your high schooler seems to have eyes for only one college? What if, to your great concern, your child plans to apply to one school and one school only? What if your teen has decided that it’s the dream school or no school at all? How can you stay supportive without completely dashing dreams or contributing to false hopes?

 

It can be a delicate scenario when a teen makes decisions about the future that are risky. On the one hand, being focused and determined is a great quality and if your teen gets into his or her dream school, all your worrying will be for naught. On the other, though, your student could be setting him or herself up for a potentially self-destructive outcome.

 

You may be struggling to find the balance between your role as a loving supporter and as a practical reality check in these situations. In this post, we will outline the realities of applying to only one school, along with how you as a parent can approach this tricky scenario in a way that’s positive and productive, while still keeping it real.

 

What Are The Risks of Applying to Only One College?

The most obvious risk of applying to only one college is that your student won’t get in. In this case, a teen who only applies to one college and is then rejected might have to settle on a community college or could be forced to take a year off entirely while waiting for the next application season to begin. While this is, of course, a significant concern, it’s not the only problem that can arise from applying to only one college.

 

Even if your teen does get into his or her singular dream school, there is still no guarantee that he or she will be able to go there. Sometimes, even with a financial aid package, a specific school will still remain financially out of reach. If money is a consideration in selecting your child’s college, your teen should be aware that finances will play a significant role in the ultimate decision. 

 

Furthermore, there may be circumstances in which your teen changes his or her mind at some point during the application process. While this might simply be a time crunch or a stressor during the early period of college applications season, if your student changes his or her mind after the application deadline, he or she may be left with far fewer options. Though some schools will still be accepting rolling applicants, there’s certainly no guarantee that your teen will be able to successfully apply to another desirable school if the vision of a dream school suddenly changes after the application deadline. Some schools that have rolling admissions as of 2017 include Penn State, Purdue University, and Rutgers.

 

If your child applies to only one school and for whatever reason does not end up going to that school, his or her life won’t be ruined, but it may become significantly more stressful while your family weighs the remaining options. In the very least, this can interrupt your student’s plans and goals and force him or her to rethink the next few years of his or her life. Emotionally speaking, this can lead to major disappointment, disillusionment, self-doubt, and other negative consequences that might leave your teen upset and scared for the future.

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How to Encourage Your Student to Apply to More Than One College:

Teach Your Child To Make an Appropriate and Responsible College List

One critical way to avoid this disconcerting scenario is to start creating a college list early and strategically. This is something you can begin to discuss with your student in very loose terms as early as freshman year.

 

Ideally, students should apply to between 6-12 colleges, with a healthy balance of selectivity. Here at CollegeVine, we recommend that of these 6-12 colleges, roughly 25% should be safety schools, 40% should be target schools, and 35% should be reach schools. For more information about what constitutes a safety, target, or reach, see our post The College List, Decoded: Safety, Target, and Reach Schools.

 

For more information about making a college list, check out these posts:

 

Encourage Your Child to Make Informed Academic Decisions

Throughout your student’s academic career, help him or her to accurately assess his or her strengths and weaknesses and to develop realistic expectations about her college admissions prospects. This will go a long ways towards preparing him or her for making a responsible college list when the time comes.

 

Also be sure to arm yourself and your student with information and data about the competitiveness and uncertainty of college admissions. CollegeVine is a great place to start. Some posts that might be particularly eye-opening include:

 

Be open and direct with your teen about your concerns, but try to leave your judgment at the door. As you have these difficult conversations, it might be easy for your child to feel that you’re being dismissive or that you’re overruling him or her. Stress that you’re only trying to look out for his or her well-being, not trying to ruin his or her life or telling him or her that he or she’s not good enough for his or her dream school.

 

Make sure that your teen knows that you value the choices and insight he or she brings to the table and that you honor his or her point of view. Spend time listening as well as talking. Rather than completely discounting the singular dream school goal, help your student to identify what he or she likes so much about this particular school and find other schools with similar characteristics.

 

Finally, enlist the help of trusted mentors, teachers, or guidance counselors to reiterate your message and further guide your teen. Sometimes teens might be more willing to hear difficult advice or information from people other than parents.

 

What If My Student Really Won’t Apply to More Than One School?

Ultimately, only your child can make this big decision, and you may have to accept it even if you disagree with it. This is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of parenting, but sometimes young people need to make their own mistakes.

 

While you might not be able to change his or her mind, you can still be a support system, whether you agree with him or her or not. Start by being on his or her side while you wait for college acceptances to be released. Just because you didn’t agree with his or her application decisions doesn’t mean that you can’t hope for the best. Let your student know that you’re rooting for him or her, and that you’ll be the first to celebrate if he or she is accepted.

 

Though you’re hoping for the best, you can still prepare for the worst. Be sure your teen knows in advance that college acceptances don’t define him or her as a person and that there’s more to life than college. You might also want to research some options that could come in handy if your student doesn’t get accepted. This could include local community colleges, any colleges with rolling admission that are still accepting applications, gap year possibilities, and transfer programs.

 

Finally, keep your perspective. While this might seem like the worst-case scenario at the moment, someday you’re likely to look back on this as simply another building block in your child’s academic history.

 

 

For more help with creating a college list and making informed decisions throughout the college application process, consider enlisting the help of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, your student will be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how and when to create the perfect college list.

For more information about options for a student who doesn’t get accepted, see these CollegeVine posts:

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist