‘Shotgunning’ colleges isn’t as good as you think

September 12, 2018 — by Michael Zhang

With admission rates hovering around 5 percent for top universities such as Harvard and Stanford, even the best high school students can’t count on getting in. As a result, along with the ease of operating online application platforms, like the Common App, thousands of seniors have made the decision to try the “shotgun” approach of applying — submitting 20 or even 30 applications in hopes of being admitted to a distinguished undergraduate program.

At first, it might seem like this method, applying to a large number of universities in hopes of being admitted by one, has few or no drawbacks. At second glance, it may not be the silver bullet to college admissions. In fact, it may even do the opposite.

Shotgunning colleges takes advantage of a certain degree of randomness — for instance, whether a student’s application essays happen to connect emotionally with admission officers or not.

There appears to be no risk to shotgunning, since it can’t hurt to apply, even if acceptance is unlikely. In fact, it seems as if there are plenty of successful students every admissions cycle who can thank their unlikely college acceptances to shotgunning.

But only the success stories become popular and disproportionately highlighted, and application fees can quickly rack up — even for wealthy students. Moreover, the stories of the unsuccessful students who randomly applied to dozens of schools without much second-thought get buried by these rare success stories, further contributing to the myth that shotgunning colleges is a bulletproof method.

College admissions are not as random as most people make them out to be. Of course, there will always be some variability in which essays resonate well with certain admissions officers, but for the most part, universities know the types of students they are looking to admit. It’s unlikely that schools jump into admission cycles unprepared without any criteria for potential acceptances. Even for borderline students, admission officers will make logical choices. It’s in their job description, after all.

Furthermore, it seems to be more efficient and fruitful for students to put full effort into the essays of a few reach schools than to hastily complete numerous mediocre applications in hopes that one might just be good enough. Surely, if a student hopes to be admitted by a prestigious university, they cannot just depend on their scores — it must be through the essays. So, students should focus on one or two colleges and craft essays that are as flawless as possible, because logically, that seems to be the most probable method of success.

Plus, even if students are haphazardly admitted by a top university, will they actually be enthusiastic about attending? The environment and culture might not suitable for some, and they might miss out on a whole four years of enjoyable experiences in exchange for a slightly more prestigious diploma.

It’s more logical that students take the time to research colleges that they truly believe will be the right fit for them, and then craft the best essays they possibly can for those select colleges. Not only will they be more enthusiastic in the application process, which will in turn lead to better essays, but they will also be happier come March if they find out that they have been accepted into a college that is perfect for them.

The shotgun method ultimately almost seems like playing the lottery, but with colleges and acceptances. There is a chance of winning, but it’s improbable. Besides, is it really worth all the time and application fees?

Contrary to popular belief, shotgunning might decrease a student’s odds of getting into any college in this college acceptance lottery. Instead, picking a couple of schools to fully dedicate essays for seems like a more sensible option.

The shotgun method is a gamble that doesn’t guarantee a payout, and as a result, many students who chose to utilize it could be disappointed by the end of March if it doesn’t work out.


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