How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

There are hundreds of factors that go into where a student decides to apply to college. From academics, location, athletics, Greek life, and much more, it may be hard to choose where a student wants to go.

Add to that the ever-increasing exclusivity of top tier schools, and the result may be students applying to as many schools as possible to increase their chances of getting into a top school and giving them lots of options when making their final decision after results come in.

However, that plan may be unrealistic for most students and they should approach their college decisions with specific information in mind. 

Keep these considerations in mind as you figure out how many colleges are good for your student to apply to:

  • The time it takes to properly research whether the college is a good fit for your student. 
  • The cost to apply to multiple colleges adds up quickly.
  • If a particular college is the only college your student is accepted to, will he/she be happy to attend and can your family afford it?

 

Common Application

With all the confusion often surrounding the college process, the Common App provides a brief moment of ease, allowing you to fill out one application that is accepted by nearly 900 schools.

There are lots of forms and essays to write when applying to college so if your student only has to fill out an application once for every school they apply to, that would greatly decrease stress and increase time to focus on other important things such as essays or school.

However, applying to dozens of schools, even with the simplicity of the Common App, may still be unnecessary if you do not have the time to research and make sure your student is a good fit at each school they apply to.

Using the Common App may save them time when applying, but cost you even more time by having to look at more schools than are necessary. 

If you go overboard choosing schools to apply, you can apply to too many colleges. Even the Common Application recognizes this, and only lets students apply to a maximum of 20 colleges. … These colleges should be a mix of target, reach, and likely schools, any of which you’d be happy to attend

 

Money

Speaking of costs, each time you send in an application to a school, there is money involved.

These days, an application fee can range anywhere from $50 to $100 each so if a student is looking at applying to 10 different schools, that could be up to $1000 on simply submitting the applications alone. 

Sending test scores costs money as well.

For the SAT the price of sending a score is $12 per school so for students who have an SAT, subject test, and an AP exam, they could be looking at $113.25 in total for each school if you take into account the price of the Common App.

For low-income families, it is important to check to see if you can qualify for an application fee waiver which will greatly reduce your costs and generate greater equality in terms of allowing people to apply to colleges.

[Why Does Applying To College Cost Money?]

 

Acceptance Rates

As colleges, in general, become more and more selective, one of the growing reasons behind applying to more schools is to increase the chances of being accepted into at least one.

When a student looks at which schools to apply to, they should break their choices down into three distinct categories.

  • Reach
  • Target
  • Safety

What is a Reach School?

Most students have schools at the top of their list where they hope they may get accepted, but their scores are slightly below the average incoming freshman. These schools are classified as reaches and should only take up 2-3 spots on a student’s list. 

While sometimes you can classify reaches simply as schools where their average scores are slightly above yours, for the highly selective schools such as Stanford, MIT, and the Ivy League, even when students have the same academics as other accepted applicants, there are so many qualified people applying, you may be rejected simply based on bad luck. Their single-digit acceptance rates don’t allow them to accept everyone, even if they meet the minimum scores.

It is also important to still be realistic when applying to a reach school.

Students with a 3.4 GPA and 25 ACT score shouldn’t spend the time or money applying to Harvard and perhaps should look more towards schools such as Drexel or possibly Baylor, where their average ACT scores are closer to 25.

What is a Target School?

The next and arguably most important part of your list are the target schools.

These are schools you should feel fairly confident about being accepted at and where your scores match or slightly exceed the average incoming freshman.

Your target schools are likely where you will end up going to college so it’s important to choose schools you would enjoy attending and have the majors you want and so forth.

In total, 3-4 schools on your list should be target schools, giving you ample room to get accepted to at least one of them.

What is a Safety School?

Finally, if luck doesn’t swing your way, you should always have safety schools to fall back on.

These are schools where your scores are far enough above the average incoming freshman that you should feel extremely confident about being accepted.

However, these schools should not be thought of as a worst-case scenario or be a school that you would never want to go to.

The college process is very random and nothing can be predicted with certainty, so you should be comfortable attending these schools and they should be similar in majors and other areas to the target and reach schools you apply to.

The safety schools should take up 2-3 spots on your college list and give you a boost of assurance that you will be accepted and have somewhere to go to college following high school.

 

So, What Is A Good Number of Colleges to Apply to?

The truth? There’s no set number of schools to apply to and the answer depends on each student’s circumstance.

Is applying to 15 colleges too much? It probably is.

Based on the numbers given for how many reaches, targets, and safeties your student should have, he/she should consider applying to 7-10 schools with maybe one or two more if you can’t narrow down the list.

What’s most important is that you and your student do thorough research when creating your college list and narrowing down the number of schools your student will apply to. Plan on creating a college spreadsheet and compiling data from various sources, or check out our College Insights tool to jumpstart your search. 

Just be sure to consider how much money you’re willing to spend as well as the time you want to take. More applications mean more supplemental essays which mean less time for other activities.

In the end, wherever you apply, be sure that they are schools you can see yourself at and would be happy attending, it isn’t worth applying to a school where you don’t fit in as you won’t get as much out of it compared to a school where you do.

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Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew is a senior at The Haverford School, in Haverford, PA. He is the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper, The Index. He enjoys writing, photography, and film making.
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