“Where Else Are You Applying?” Why Colleges Ask This + How to Respond
- Why Colleges Ask Where Else You’re Applying
- How to Respond to “What Other Colleges Are You Applying To?”
- The Takeaway
- How to Calculate Your Odds of Acceptance
“Where else are you applying?” Some college applicants might encounter this unnerving question in an interview or application. Schools ask this question for various reasons. What’s consistent about this question, however, is its ability to fluster applicants. To understand the underlying motivation of this question and how to correctly respond, read on.
Why Colleges Ask Where Else You’re Applying
In some cases, the question is pretty innocuous, but in other instances, it can have a significant effect on whether or not you’ll receive an acceptance letter. For this reason, it’s valuable to understand why colleges ask where else you’re applying.
One of the primary reasons that schools ask about the other colleges you’re interested in is for marketing purposes. Schools use this information to learn what other institutions they’re competing against and refine their recruitment strategies. This is a pretty harmless reason, and it shouldn’t impact your chances of acceptance.
Many colleges are extremely protective of their yield—the percentage of the students who enroll at a university after being accepted—believing that it’s an indicator of prestige. If you share that you’re applying to a bunch of higher-ranked institutions, the school asking the question will conclude that they’re your safety school, which might make them less likely to admit you to protect their yield rate.
A common variation of the question “Where else are you applying?” is “Where have you been accepted?” When asking this question, schools are also trying to gauge the likelihood of you attending. For example, if you’ve already been accepted at a higher-ranked school, the odds of you choosing them is diminished. So, the lower-ranked school may again not accept you to protect their yield.
It’s worth noting that college admissions officials are well informed and evaluate hundreds to thousands of candidates a year. No matter how you answer this question, they’ll have a strong idea of how they stack up compared to other schools based on your profile.
How to Respond to “What Other Colleges Are You Applying To?”
This question is actually technically not allowed. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) advises against asking “candidates…to divulge or rank order their college preferences on applications or other documents” in their Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. The NACAC states “they may ask the question verbally only if the answer will not be used to influence an admission, scholarship, or financial aid decision.”
With that said, it’s still common for candidates to be asked this question. A safe strategy is to answer it as if it might have bearing on your application—because it can. Here’s what you should do:
One way to approach this question, if you encounter it on an application, is to leave it blank. Of course, this isn’t a solution if the question is mandatory on one of your applications, or if you’re asked the question in an interview. In that case, you’ll need a more well-thought-out approach.
Give a Vague Answer
If you’re required to respond to the question, you can simply give a vague answer, without naming any schools. For example:
I’m applying to my state flagship university and a few other schools across the country.
Highlight an Admirable Quality of the School
You can also talk about the shared general characteristics of the schools you’re applying to, without naming specific colleges. An excellent way to answer this question is by spotlighting a particular aspect of the school that’s asking you the question. In this case, your reply might look like this:
I’m looking at a handful of smaller schools with strong environmental science programs on the East coast. I’m really interested in schools with small classes that provide the opportunity to get real-world experience in the field.
I’m interested in the intimacy and attention offered by a small specialized college, but don’t want to miss out on the opportunities and privileges provided by larger institutions. One of the things that stands out about Pitzer is its membership in the Claremont Consortium, as I’d be able to have my own community but also take advantage of the resources at the other four institutions. I’m considering schools with similar arrangements.
Redirect the Interviewer
Although unlikely, it’s possible that an interviewer might press you for a direct response. In these rare cases, the best strategy is to try to redirect the question and say that you’d rather talk about their school specifically, and not other schools. This is often a great chance to talk about the aspects of the school that are particularly appealing to you.
The most important thing for college applicants to remember is that they should not answer the question with a list of all the schools they’re applying to—the cons outnumber the pros. This is especially true when asked where you’ve been accepted.
It’s also valuable to prepare for this question and turn a confounding moment into a chance to demonstrate your interest in the school, and hopefully cement your acceptance.
How to Calculate Your Odds of Acceptance
While the interview is often one of the aspects of the college process that applicants stress about the most, in reality it is unlikely to be the determining factor for your application. So, as you prepare your response to this question and other common ones, you may be wondering how the other, more crucial aspects of your application stack up at your dream schools.
To answer that question, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. It takes into account just about every element of your application (other than your interview, letters of recommendation, and essays, which aren’t quantifiable), including your grades, course rigor, test scores (if you have them), and extracurriculars, to give you personalized odds of acceptance at all of your top choice schools.