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How Many Colleges Should I Apply to? A Comprehensive Guide for Students

Dec 27, 2021

Making the college list is one of the most stressful periods in a student’s life. It’s a process that starts with a basic understanding of what your goals are, what you like, and the intuition that every student brings to the table. Knowing yourself, your dislikes and your likes will assist you in the process.

There’s a popular belief among teenagers and many parents that “the more colleges you apply for, the greater your prospects.” It makes sense in theory, but there are other factors to consider than hedging your risks with statistics. In this article, I’ll guide you with an idea of how many colleges should I apply to.


Three Things to Think About When Applying for the College

The Cost of Study

College applications may be time-absorbing and costly, costing up to 100 dollars for each application unless the school or organization waives the costs. The total cost of ten schools at 100 dollars each is 1,000 dollars. These applications are non-refundable and will not be deducted from your total price of attendance. Although this should not be the only criteria considered when deciding the number of applications filed, it should be taken into account.

The Period

Applying to college takes a significant amount of time. Each college has its unique set of application requirements. The average college application takes around two hours to complete, not counting essay writing. Common logic indicates that the more applications you have to finish and collect, the less time you will spend on each one. The applications are your means of conveying who you are to a college. This is not the time to spread yourself widely to increase your chances.


Quantity vs. Quality

When people apply to a dozen or more universities, Allen Grove, an admissions expert, believes it’s a little absurd. He can’t comprehend how the student visited all the campuses, in addition to conducting significant research, and then determined that several of them were excellent fits.

“You notice students applying to every Ivy League,” Grove adds. “I just have to worry if the student who likes Columbia would also appreciate Dartmouth.” That seems improbable to me, therefore I frequently suspect students who send out so many applications haven’t done their homework.”


How do I choose the best College for me?

Let me start by disavowing the notion that there is a single ideal college out there. Your life will not “end” if you do not get into School X because there are hundreds of alternative schools with the same essential attributes as School X. While it may appear that we are attempting to derail your image of the ideal university, we genuinely mean for this to be extremely fantastic news. The reality is that regardless of who you are, whether you are a valedictorian or a B/C student, there are at least 40-50 institutions that would be an excellent fit for you.

It is vital to approach the procedure with an open mind. Too frequently, kids become focused on a specific institution for stupid reasons, such as a strong love for UNC’s powder blue or developing an unhealthy obsession with a specific elite school simply based on its U.S. News rating. Not to imply that superficial appeal is unimportant, but you should also examine aspects such as proximity to home, your family’s financial position, admissions chances, majors offered, and outcome statistics such as the strength of their career services, alumni network, and grad school/job placement.


How many colleges should I apply for on my college list?

Your college list should consist of 8-10 colleges, with a good balance of safety, target, and reach schools. If a kid is applying to many very competitive universities, you may want to boost this number to 12.

What exactly is a “Safety” school?

A safe college is one where your credentials—your grades and test scores—are higher than the average accepted student’s and where you are more likely to get admitted. You should also ensure that one or two of your safeties are also financial security schools. Places where your parents are comfortable funding the full cost of tuition, lodging, board, and other expenses through a mix of savings, a 529 plan, and low-interest government loans.


Another critical issue to emphasize is that Ivy League and other wealthy institutions are seldom, if ever, “safety” schools. These colleges receive far more applications from outstanding kids than they can accept. Schools with single-digit admit rates should never be called safety schools, even if you are the valedictorian of your high school class with astronomical test scores.

What exactly is a “Target” school?

Three to four of the schools on your list should be “target” colleges—institutions where your academic profile is similar to that of the typical admitted student and you have a better than 50/50 probability of admission. How do you rate this? Simply put, the average accepted student resembles you.


What exactly is a “Reach” school?

Many students choose “reach” colleges that are more akin to a “snowball’s chance in hell.” There’s no harm in an ordinary student applying to Yale, but there’s also no point. Reaching schools aren’t a high-risk option, but your time is too important to waste by applying to Middlebury with a C average.

Reach schools are ideally those where your GPA and test scores are lower than the average accepted student. Admission is unlikely, but it is not impossible. You think that your great essays, recommendations, particular abilities, or background will win over an admission officer’s heart.


Common blunders that students make while making a college list

Students misclassifying dream schools as target schools is a common, albeit sad, college admissions consequence. As in, “My SATs are poor, and my GPA dipped junior year, but I still have a solid chance at Duke.” Not appraising your possibilities soberly and precisely during the list-creation process will only lead to poor results when it comes time to make a selection.

On the other hand, students who show themselves short in the college application process and develop a college list consisting of institutions that are academically lesser than the college into which they could have been admitted, given their capabilities and academic potential, fall into this scenario. As a result, the student typically attends a less selective college with a lower graduation number, fewer resources, and fewer possibilities for postsecondary and career success.

Assisting your pupils in making college selections

Students want your assistance in completing their lists of universities to which they intend to apply in this competitive admissions climate. How many colleges should a student apply for? And how should a student choose which institutions to apply to?

There is no magic number, but five to eight applications are frequently sufficient to assure admission to a suitable university (depending, of course, on the particular student’s record and circumstances). This figure should be made up of “safety,” “probable,” and “reach” colleges.

More than just statistics

Even if a student’s list comprises a sufficient number of institutions, there is no assurance that it contains the top universities for that student. Janet Stetson, associate director of admission at Bard College, proposes asking the following questions to help a student narrow down their choices:
● Has the student thoroughly investigated each college?
● Is the college offering the courses and programs that the student is interested in?
● What are the financial requirements of the student?
● Is each institution a suitable fit for the student’s social needs and interests?

Reducing the number of options

Students should have five to ten colleges in mind by the conclusion of their junior year. This provides some leeway in the major selection, career ambitions, and potential financial assistance or scholarship opportunities.

“Safety” Colleges

Colleges with lax admissions policies are frequently referred to as “safety” schools. This word refers to colleges where the prerequisites ensure the candidate has minimal possibility of being rejected. Most students only apply to one safety, however, a student may apply to both academic and financial safety.

“Probable” Colleges

A “probable” college is one that the student believes will meet his or her needs and desires; one that the student would gladly attend even if it is not the top choice. In the academic and social spheres, the student should meet the normal entrance standards. A decent rule of thumb is to keep two to four potential universities in mind.

“Reach” Colleges

These are the best options, but they are less likely to accept the student. This might be because the student’s qualifications are comparable to or somewhat below the college’s average, and competition for the restricted spots in the freshman class is fierce. Students should choose one or two colleges from this list.

Analyzing the competition

Students must evaluate, in addition to their ability, the critical variables of a college’s yield rates and selectivity. The first refers to the proportion of applications accepted by a college, while the second refers to the percentile of accepted students who enrol.

how many colleges should i apply to


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