You’ll find a different answer to this question no matter where you go. Most people say six, some articles say three, some say 12. Why does the number vary so much?
Because there is no right answer. It all depends on the student applying and must be considered on a case by case basis. But there are a few guidelines that may help you hone in on your magic number.
Reach, Match, Safety
College applications can typically be organized into three categories: reach schools, which are highly selective and the odds of acceptance are low, match schools where your academic record is around average with admitted students, and safety schools, where you test higher than most admitted students.
You should apply to at least one school in each category. Beyond that, it all depends. A student with a 4.0 GPA, a laundry list of extracurricular activities, and shining personal references will probably not need to apply to more than one safety school. But if that makes you nervous, apply to two safety schools — just in case.
If your academic record or list of activities is not as exemplary, consider loading up on safety schools and a few match schools. And if you’ve worked hard your entire life to get into an Ivy League or other school with an impressive reputation, by all means apply to a few reach schools to increase your odds of acceptance from just one. (Just don’t forget about at least one match school and one safety school as well!)
Something to remember when deciding how many schools to apply to is the cost. For one application, the fee may not seem like much, but if you’re considering submitting applications to more than 10 schools at $50 an application on average, you’re talking about a major investment of both time and money. Forming a plan ahead of time can help prevent shell shock when you get your credit card bill back after a month of application madness.
Hone in on Your Ideal School
Applications can be expensive, time consuming, and stressful, so don’t put yourself through more pain than is necessary. Talk to your guidance counselor, teachers, and college admissions officers to gain some perspective on how many applications will be right for you.
Once you know how many you plan to apply to, the only trick is deciding which ones. Here are a few tips on narrowing down your selections.
First, select a dozen or so colleges you’re interested in. Study each college’s brochures and website and determine what it is you like about that school. Make a list of the things you like best about each one, such as “small, liberal arts focus, in a big city, great veterinary medicine program.” If you notice that 10 out of 12 schools you like are in the same type of environment or have less than 1,000 students, it may become obvious what your preference is.
Scheduling a few campus visits at different types of colleges may help you decide what you want out of a college as well. Once you know what you want, drop the schools that obviously don’t fit. Also, it sounds obvious, but if you are considering a degree in Engineering, don’t bother applying to schools without a good Engineering program. Even if you’re not sure which major you’ll choose, you want to be able to take a variety of courses and make the decision for yourself.
Make it Easy
While filling out applications and waiting for acceptance letters is never easy, you can try to make the process as easy as possible. Consider using The Common Application to apply to multiple schools. It’s a not-for-profit website that allows you to fill out a general application just once and submit it to as many of the 488 participating schools as you’d like (you still have to pay normal application fees). It won’t save you money, but it can save you a lot of time filling out the same form over and over.
No matter how many schools you apply to, try to remember that you’re about to embark on very exciting new stage in your life. So breathe, take breaks when you need to, and keep filling out those forms until you’re satisfied.
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