How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

“How many colleges should I apply to?” is one of those questions that come up every year as a new batch of high school graduates starts their college application process. It is a valid question. Everyone will tell you how important it is to create a list of colleges. While that is great advice, it may leave the student confused as to how many colleges should be on that shortlist. Even more confusing is the fact that everybody has their own ‘magic number’.

So how few is too few and how many is too many? We’ve put together a few things you need to keep in mind when applying to colleges. Plus, some tips to help you create a college shortlist that has the right number of colleges for you.

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Remember, There Is No ONE Answer That Is Right For Everyone

This really is the most important thing to keep in mind. The right number of colleges for one person may not necessarily be the right number for you. This is because every student’s personal circumstances and priorities when selecting a school are unique. Your finances, priorities, goals and other circumstances will determine the right number of colleges that you should apply to but that does not mean your best friend should also apply to the same number of colleges.

For example, if you already have a dream college in mind and that college offers the option of early decision or early action, then you may need to apply to that one college only. With early decision, you submit your application in November and receive a reply from the college in December. This is much before the regular application deadlines. If you are accepted, you have to attend that college so there is no question of applying anywhere else.

If you are determined to attend a very selective college, it may be a better idea to apply to a higher number of colleges than the average student. Selective colleges have very stringent requirements and high rejection rates. The more colleges you apply to, the better your chances of being accepted in at least one of them.

If, on the other hand, you are confident about getting accepted to at least a couple of schools on your list and are not overly choosy, you may only need to apply to 3 to 5 colleges.

As you can see, you should not obsess about the exact number that others recommend. Instead, you need to assess your circumstances and find that magic number that meets your needs and goals.

Why Is It So Important To Find The Right Number Of Colleges To Apply To?

By now you’re wondering what the big fuss is about. A simpler way would be to just send out applications to any and every college you are interested in. Then make your final choice depending on what acceptance letters you receive.

The fact is it is not as straightforward as it may sound. Putting together and submitting college applications costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. You must consider your budget as well as your time constraints.

All colleges charge application fees, which you will have to pay upfront unless you qualify for a fee waiver. In addition to the online application, you will also have to pay a courier to send your SAT/ACT or AP scores to all the colleges you apply to. All of this can add up quickly. You can expect to pay approximately $2,000 to apply to 20 colleges. That is a considerable amount. Instead of wasting the money on unnecessary applications, it is advisable to narrow down your college shortlist and save the money to pay for your tuition fees.

Besides being expensive, college applications are also time-intensive. You have to write different essays for each college you apply to. That itself can take up several hours and can eat into the time reserved for your schoolwork and other commitments. Both of which are equally important. When you have too many essays to write and too many applications to submit, you will in all likelihood end up compromising your school work and neglecting your other priorities. Or you may rush through the essays and submit sloppy work that will jeopardize your applications altogether.

Being selective and taking the time to submit stellar applications to fewer colleges will save you both time and money. At the same time, it boosts your chances of getting accepted.

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Keep These Guidelines in Mind

Regardless of the exact number of schools you decide to apply to, keep these few guidelines in mind:

Be Realistic:

Don’t waste your time and money applying to a college just because you’ve heard a lot of good things about the campus and you’ve always wanted to study there. The harsh truth is if you are not a good fit for the college, your odds of getting accepted are low to none. When making your final shortlist of colleges to apply to, you must be realistic.

Number of Safety Colleges:

Make sure you have a few safety colleges on your shortlist. Your list of safety schools may not include your top choices. But it should still only feature schools that you are willing to attend. Do not waste time and money applying to any college that you do not want to attend.

College Research:

Doing your college search and submitting your applications simultaneously is a mistake. There are higher chances that you will end up submitting far more applications than you needed to. Do a major chunk of your research first and only start with your applications after you have exhausted your research and narrowed down your list to the final few.

Narrowing Down Your List:

The best way to narrow down your list of colleges is by considering the majors offered, the total cost of education, campus culture, accommodation options, rankings, local job or internship opportunities, rankings, and summer/winter weather.

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