Shotgunning—I'm very confused

For all those that have applied previously, is shotgunning an advisable strategy or not? It seems logical to me on the surface, but I think there’s a lot more than meets the eye.

I believe that applying to all 8 Ivy Leagues, all 15 of the T15, etc. is a waste of time and money. At the same time though, I kind of feel like I would be missing out on an opportunity to get into a prestigious school by not applying.

I mean doesn’t everyone say that “your college doesn’t define you, you do”? So I suppose if someone got into a prestigious school that wasn’t really a right “fit” for them, then they could figure out a way to make that experience enjoyable for them, right?

Don’t we all tell people who end up going to safety schools that it’s up to them to make the most of their education, not the university? So, when people endorse this ideology but then turn around and say, “don’t apply to all 8 ivies”, isn’t it a bit hypocritical? Or are they just trying to make those people who are going to safety schools happier?

Sorry for the long post. I just wanted to get all of this off my mind and in writing somewhere.

First of all, it is extremely difficult to “shotgun” the more selective schools effectively because so the degree that you spend crafting that application to fit the school and show that you are a stand out applicant for each school directly impacts your acceptance chances. The time And attention spend on each application Is reduced, once you apply to more than a certain number of schools. That factor can directly impact the already low chances of getting into any of those schools.

I have seen people who have done this and succeeded but usually they have some sort of hook that increases their acceptance chances anyways.

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8 Ivies + T15 = 23 applications.

Once you start crafting that many essays, you might change your mind about applying to so many schools.

Also: “showing interest” – traveling and taking part in 23 schools’ tours and programs …

Cost of applying = $60 * 23 = $1380 for crap shoot.

I think that once people start really looking at what the costs are to shotgunning, they start weeding out the list to schools they might want to attend for reasons other than just Brand Name.

Typically speaking the most competitive schools have the most involved supplementary essays. You are wasting time and money if you don’t have a solid, well crafted application.

And no, I don’t think the same student who would be happy at Penn would enjoy Dartmouth. Could you bloom where you are planted? Sure. Would there be much better fits without the Ivy name in other schools, absolutely.

In addition to the great comments/advice above, think about it this way - would someone who would be happy at Dartmouth also be happy at, say, Columbia? Feeling reasonably comfortable at the school matters. It does not help to gain acceptance to a particular Ivy only to hate it once you’re there. Much better to spend your time finding true fits. My D21, for example, would feel completely at home at Dartmouth, in the mountains, than at Columbia in the middle of the city and with a rigid core curriculum she doesn’t want to experience. She would rather go to our state flagship than go to Columbia, because she knows Columbia is just not a good fit for her and she’d be miserable there. It’s difficult to get a great education if you don’t like the program or the surroundings. (And yes, of course Columbia is a wonderful school, but it isn’t for everyone…and neither is Dartmouth, which someone who loves cities might find far too rural and isolated).

Why would that be hypocritical? How well you do at any college is up to you, but the Ivies and top 15 colleges (as ranked by USNews) aren’t safeties for anybody. It doesn’t matter if you think you could be happy at any of them. The chances of getting in are still small.

It’s not a good idea to apply to 23 colleges based solely on their position on a ranking chart created by someone else. If you’re intent on pursuing premed there are lots of things you should consider when choosing where you do your undergrad, but I don’t believe prestige is one of them. But apply to all of them if you want. Just make sure your list has a safety or two that you’d genuinely be happy to attend.

Focus on the schools that have programs that seem to fit your interests best. Apply to those few schools first, throw in a safety school, and then add some more applications to T-15 schools if you still have the time, energy, money and desire. Keep an eye out for schools that provide merit scholarships and try not to miss the extra essays and earlier deadlines for some of those opportunities.

As you go through this process you may well fall in love with a few schools. Consider an EDI and EDII strategy if that is possible for you to raise the likelihood of admission. But only do this if you find a good fit. ED is the opposite of the shotgun approach. It is focused. However, you can still send out a bunch of non ED applications as backup knowing that you are supposed to pull those applications if admitted ED and you can afford the FA package you are offered.

I’m curious why you think it’s logical. The time involved in applying to more and more universities means less time dedicated to each application. Which means a lower quality application to each one.

Each application is a statistically independent event, so applying to more won’t improve your chances at any individual school.

I would hypothesize that lower quality applications to 20 schools would yield a worse result than 8 quality applications to the schools that really interest you.

Do all 20+ schools even have the education you are looking for and a campus where you feel at home. There aren’t many students who say “Caltech and Brown are pretty much the same to me for what I’m looking to study”.

I think you really need to research colleges well and figure out which ones are the “best fit” in three areas: financially, academically, and socially.

Many students just apply to “ivies” without thinking if they are really the best fit for them and shotgunning doesn’t really improve their odds of acceptance to any one of them.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to go to a “top college” but you need to make sure of two things: the college is a great fit for you and you are a great fit for the college?

Like many high school students, you forget that the point of going to college isn’t to get accepted into the most prestigious college which will take you, but to find a place where you will get as much out of your four years of college as you can.

Shotgunning all of the most popular colleges is very definitely not a strategy which will find you a college where you will succeed and thrive, and which will help set you up for your next stage in life.

I will repeat this once more: your goal is to Attend A College, NOT To Be Accepted To A College.

No, these people are saying the same thing. As people on this thread have emphasized, the most important thing is fit, and there is absolutely no way that all 8 Ivies are a good fit for the same person. If a person chooses their safety well, then their safety is a good fit, and therefore it was a great choice for them.

One common mistake that students make is to attend the highest ranked university that they can get admitted to. Rankings say almost nothing about whether a university is a good fit for you.

I will admit that the thing that got me over the idea that prestige matters was getting accepted to and attending a highly ranked university.

There are some things that are very good about top universities. There are some things that are not so good. Probably the thing that in retrospect bothers me the most is that I was so busy as an undergrad with my class work that I did not have time to participate in some specific extracurricular activities that I would have wanted to do. Highly ranked universities can also be stressful, particularly for relatively young people who are not ready for it.

I agree with others that applying to this many universities will stop you from doing a good job on your applications.

The top 15 universities in the US plus the few Ivy’s that are not in the top 15 are significantly different from each other. It is not obvious to me that Dartmouth College and Columbia are a good fit for the same students.

If you want to major in mechanical engineering then not all of the top 15 schools are good at ME. If you want to major in music then there is a different subset of the top 15 schools that have a good program. Forestry is a major that not all of the top schools have at all. I know someone who was an animal science major. I can think of at least one Ivy League school (Cornell) that might be a very good choice for an animal science major. I am not sure that MIT even has any cows or horses on campus (I never saw any when I was there).

I did see some students drop out of MIT during their freshman year. These were all very strong students. They would have done better somewhere else.

I have to disagree with all of the above posters in one respect. If you are in the category of low income, I say please go ahead and crapshoot if you have the complete application stats and EC’s that top schools are looking for. The reason I say that is because the best financial aid for very low income students is at those schools. A $0 EFC qualified student can go to one of the generous schools for much less than most other schools, often with no debt. As far as not being able to do a good job at 23 applications, hooey. A student that is qualified for those schools can start early in the summer and crank out the essays by the time applications are due. IIRC, my kiddo cranked out 32 secondarys for med school applications and that was after double digit UG apps. Even though each school had to be researched for the essays, a good amount could be reused for most schools. For my kid, crapshooting did well in both UG and med school as far as $ went. YMMV


You shouldn’t shotgun safeties either. Most people have multiple schools that would fit the safety criteria for acceptance and cost.

@CottonTales Adding a very high reach or two as a low SES student is generally a good idea, since these colleges also have very good financial deals, but that is not the same as shotgunning all the Ivies. So it would be a good idea for a low income student who is interested in, say, History, to apply to one or two of the very high reaches. However, applying to all 8 Ivies + Stanford + Duke + Berkeley is not a good idea…

Unless the applicant is comparing financial deals. So a high stats kid could apply to Arizona, Iowa, UNM, and Alabama to see which would provide the best financial deal.

Would those still give 100& of costs, plus more? I don’t think so.

“Each application is a statistically independent event, so applying to more won’t improve your chances at any individual school.”

Perhaps at any “individual school,” but it does increase one’s chances of being selected by at least one of a larger group than one of a smaller group given that the colleges are, relatively speaking, looking for the same thing.

That is, applying to A, B, and C versus applying to A, B, C, D, E, and F does not increase my chances (by itself) of getting into B, but it does increase my chances of getting into at least one of the schools I apply to (assuming I am in the ballpark for all the schools; assuming that I am not an automatic reject at all of them).

[I said “by itself” above because some have said that applying to fewer schools will increase the quality of the essays as more time may be spent on each essay.]

I’m not sure if it matters much. Ultimately the bank account is going to decide where you actually go. And no, you’re not missing anything going to a “non ivy-league.” You’re getting a bachelors degree. Your major and marketable skills you earn are going to be where it really matters, and that can be done anywhere. Scholarships are a much better deal anyway, because you’re not a slave to debt, limiting your options.