There’s a movie scene in which a hopeful teen is handed theletter, the one he’s been waiting for, with a college’s logo embossed on it. It’s a charged moment, and the student has to brace himself to open it.

Most colleges have turned to emails these days, but the tension is just as great. With one click, the gates to a student’s chosen path are either opened or slammed shut.

Students at Catholic high schools have an advantage in that process, because the colleges know the schools’ reputation, and colleges, especially Catholic colleges, often recruit from Catholic schools. The students also have the advantage of advice from counselors who have gotten to know them over their high school careers.

“You’re really just looking for one school that’s a good fit,” says Inga Mannion, college and career counselor at Blanchet School in Salem.

That perfect college must be one the student would be excited to attend but it should also be one that will likely say “yes.”

While it may ease tensions to apply to a half dozen back-ups (statistically a quarter of high school applicants apply to seven or more colleges), there are good arguments for picking just one school, with perhaps a couple back-ups. To begin with, there’s an emotional toll that comes with every “no,” even with the understanding that Notre Dame’s acceptance rate, for example, is only 18.3 percent. Rejection hurts even if it’s partly expected.

“It’s not a competition to see how many colleges will accept you,” says Mannion.

Selena Galindo, school counselor at Regis High School in Stayton, says that sometimes students have one idea and parents another about which college is that one that’s right. “But this is the student’s career; they’re the one who will be living it out,” she says. “I tell students it’s important to pursue what’s right for them.”

In other words, hovering parents don’t help, and helpful parents don’t hover.

The decision to commit to one college shows in admissions essays and in-person interviews. Students can take heart that college admissions offices, especially Catholic admissions offices, are looking for reasons to say yes to students who have done their research and can say why they want to attend, for instance, the Holy Cross University of Portland, the Benedictine St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, or even the Marianist Chaminade University in Honolulu.

By following Mannion’s advice and focusing on one school — making a second visit to the campus, researching the course offerings, deciding what parts of student life they want to take join — a student will have far more reasons, both heartfelt and judicious, to share with admissions counselors.

Peter Johnson, director of college advising at Jesuit High School in Portland, says visiting colleges is the most important part of choosing a college and then being able to communicate that choice to admissions counselors.

“Students have to discern whether the environment will be suited to their learning style,” he says. “Become familiar with their traditions, their environments, their strengths. College is a real gift. Take advantage of it.”

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