How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

Dear College Made Simple Reader,

How many schools should you apply to?

There’s no simple answer, of course. First off, keep in mind the admissions process today is far different than years past.

Thanks to the ease of electronic filing and innovations like the standard application, the number of applicants to 4-year U.S. colleges and universities has shot up (according to data from the U.S. Dept. of Education).

Meanwhile, there has been an overall decline in acceptance rates at U.S. schools.

That means today’s college-bound students have to be even more judicious in the schools they decide to apply to.

Today, let’s look at how to figure out what the proper number might be for you.

– Scott

How To Figure Out the Right Number of College Applications

1. Get Help

How much help families receive while looking at college varies wildly, of course. Some students are in a graduating class of 2000 with 2 college advisors for everyone. Others are in a graduating class of 60 and have 3 advisors to share.

Generally speaking, the lower the college counselor-to-student ratio, the better chance you as a student have of figuring out your odds at any given school.

And the better you know your chances, the fewer schools you need to apply to. If you’ve received good advice, have done your homework on a school – perhaps including visits – and have spoken with professionals, then you should have a very good idea where you fit in.

In such a case, you might only need to apply to a single safety school, with a high degree of confidence that you’ll get in.

Conversely, if you haven’t been able to visit many or any schools, your college counselors barely know your name, and you aren’t really sure how schools are likely to react to your applications, you’ll need to apply to many more schools. At least two – and maybe three – safeties, and a number of target schools that shade an entire range of levels, rather than two or three in your known wheelhouse.

2. Understand Your Aim

How important is the name and prestige of your school?

How much do you want a challenge?

How happy will you be with your third choice? Your fourth choice?

These are important questions – because if you won’t be happy with anything but the best, you’ll need to apply to a lot of reach schools.

Reach schools – those where your credentials would be below average, or which are just so hyper-competitive that no one is guaranteed a spot – are, by definition, far from sure things. If you’re determined to attend an Ivy anyway, you might have to apply to all eight of them – especially if your grades or test scores aren’t exemplary.

Of course, even filling your plate with reach schools doesn’t mean you’ll get into one. So you’ll need your target schools and safety schools as well.

Meanwhile, some students apply to only one school they consider a safety or sure thing – because it has something else they want, like a great location or a special extracurricular.

Decide what will make you most happy – and apply accordingly.

3. Your Time

If time were no object, every student would apply to every school, so they had the fullest possible choice come decision time.

As it is, most seniors compare the application process to carrying an extra class fall semester – it takes that much time and effort.

So, as you decide how many places you’d like to apply, remember to take the time involved into account.

Generally speaking, if you aren’t sure you’ll get in somewhere you’ll love, do the extra application to cover your bases. If you aren’t sure which of three near-equal schools you’d prefer, spend a little time beforehand knocking one off the list.

You want to have choices at the end of this process. But you don’t need eight choices – you need two or three. Make as many as possible beforehand, so you save yourself time, give your most important applications your fullest attention, and have a good idea what you’ll do when the big day arrives.

To Your Family’s Successful College Admissions,

Scott Weingold
Co-founder, College Planning Network, LLC

Publisher, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC

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