“How many colleges should I apply to?” If you’re weighing this question, we’re guessing that you’re getting ready to apply for college. Or, at least, you’re thinking about it. And if you’ve already asked your friends this same question, the conversation probably went something like this:
“At least 30!!”
“Idk, around 6 or 7?”
“Just one, bb. Ivy League or bust.” (Spoiler alert: This is definitely the wrong answer.)
So, who is right? How many colleges should you apply to?
There is no magic number, TBH. The answer depends on several factors such as your time, budget, and how selective the school is. Below, we’ll explain how to best determine the right number of college applications to submit.
So…How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?
As a general rule of thumb, students should send out six to 12 college applications. Of those six to 12 applications, two to three should be “safety” schools, two to three should be “target” schools, and two to three should be “dream” schools.
Never heard of safety, target, and dream schools? Here’s a quick breakdown:
Safety schools include schools that you’re reasonably certain you’ll get accepted to because your academic credentials (grades, test scores, and class rank) are above the average for admitted students. With safety schools, it’s also important to consider college scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid since you’ll likely be accepted to these schools. You should be able to afford at least one safety school on your list.
Related: How Do Scholarships Work?
Target schools (also called “match” schools”) are schools that you have a strong chance of getting into, but you’re not guaranteed admission. Your grades, test scores, and class rank are roughly equal to those of the incoming freshman class.
Sometimes called “reach” schools, dream schools include colleges and universities that are considered a stretch for you based on your stats. If you dream of getting into an Ivy League school like UPenn or Harvard, they’d definitely go on this list, along with any other college where your test scores fall below the 25th percentile.
Related: What Do Colleges Look For?
Can I Send More Than 12 College Applications?
Totally! In fact, the Common Application — a platform that streamlines the college application process — lets you apply to up to 20 schools.
But depending on your situation, applying for as many colleges as you possibly can may not be the best strategy. Here are a few factors to consider when figuring out how many colleges to apply for.
As a senior in high school, you will be B-U-S-Y. Between completing schoolwork, applying for college scholarships, and participating in extracurricular activities, you probably don’t have much time to fill out more than 10 or so applications.
Also keep in mind that the college application is tedious AF. Even with the Common App, you still need to carve out time to do your initial research, write a thoughtful essay, and proofread your application multiple times before you hit submit.
Don’t get us wrong. It’s totally worth the effort. But the college application process isn’t something you should rush, especially if you’re applying for elite schools.
Another factor that may influence the number of colleges you apply for is the cost of applying for college. Although there are a handful of colleges with no application fee, most schools charge anywhere from $50 to $90 per application. Lame, we know, but it’s how some schools try to ensure that only serious students will apply for admission.
Last but not least, consider your chances of actually getting into the school. Depending on how many dream schools you already have on your list, applying for another dream school may not be worth the time and money you put into the application.
College admissions officers carefully evaluate your grades, coursework, and test scores. Before you apply, do your research and find out whether the school would be considered a safety, target, or dream school based on your academic credentials. If you have competitive stats, you generally don’t need to apply to as many schools.
Finding Your Best Fit
To sum things up, there is no right answer to the question, “How many colleges should I apply to?” What matters more is the quality of your college shortlist.
Does your list include safety, target, and dream schools? Would you be happy to attend all of them? If you answered yes to both questions, then apply, apply, apply.
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