How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?
How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?


It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Planning on attending college? You are wondering how many colleges should I apply to. Almost everyone asks “How many schools should I apply to?” Filling out college applications and thinking about this can indeed be overwhelming! Well regardless of how many universities you are thinking about and whether you are just the average student or a potential Ivy League student, I can help you. Read below for guidance on the college application process.

As a student, you should ask yourself a few questions. First, how many universities should I apply to? Second, which schools are my target schools? How do I stand in terms of GPA and other factors for these selective schools? Third, if things do not work out, which college college should I attend?

Is there a Number?

There is no “right” number or magic number of colleges to apply to. Many experts recommend that students apply to least five universities. I typically recommend to most students to apply to somewhere between 9 and 15 schools. (There are some exceptions to this rule.)

Two things to consider when evaluating how many colleges you are applying to:

  1. Having enough universities on your list is a necessity. If you are applying to only one or two highly competitive schools, then your options will be severely limited if things do not work out. Applying to a large number of competitive schools increases your options and increases the statistical likelihood of you getting into a target school.
  2. Applying to more schools is expensive (application fees often range from $70 to $100 unless you get fee waivers) and it can be time-consuming to write college application essays.

There is no ideal number but you have to determine your capacity for filling out applications and how much money you are willing to spend.

Categorizing Your Options

Take stock of your academic profile. Then classify the universities into three categories:

  1. Reach schools: a reach school typically is a school where the average GPA and the 50th percentile standardized test score are significantly above your GPA and standardized test score.
  2. Target schools: You would be an average admitted student in this school. Your ACT scores/Sat scores and GPA would be average here.
  3. Safety schools: Your GPA and standardized test scores are well above average. You can consider these to be less selective schools considering your metrics.

Look at the metrics for accepted students into each university you apply to (as well as the acceptance rate) and then place the colleges into these three categories. I recommend having at least 1/3 of your schools be target schools. For example, if you are applying to twelve colleges, at least four schools should be target schools. You can divide the remainder between reach and safety schools. This allows you to take the chance of getting into your dream school while at the same time having more colleges where you have a decent chance to gain admission.

Focusing largely on reach schools can limit your options if things do not work out but focusing largely on safety schools may cause you to sell yourself short.

5 Points to Consider

When choosing which colleges to apply to, there are several points to consider that can help you make an informed decision.

  1. Academic Program: make sure the colleges you apply to offer the academic program or major you’re interested in. Going through a list of majors offered is the first step. Second look at the course list for your major. Is it sufficiently rigorous?
  2. Location: would you want to study at a university to home or explore a new place? Keep in mind factors like climate, proximity to family, and opportunities for cultural exposure or internships in the area.
  3. The size of the university can greatly influence your experience. If you prefer smaller class sizes and a close-knit community, a small college might be suitable for you. On the other hand, larger universities often offer more programs, resources, and activities.
  4. Evaluate the tuition and other costs of attending each college. Consider what financial aid options are available and whether you feel comfortable with the potential debt. If you are an excellent candidate with high class rank you may be able to obtain financial aid packages from more schools. Bear in mind, that top universities get many candidates so they will be extremely selective when it comes to financial aid.
  5. Research the campus culture and see if it aligns with your personality and preferences. This might include looking at things like housing options, extracurricular activities, diversity, and student support services.

Remember, the goal is to find colleges that are the right fit for you academically, socially, and financially. These do not necessarily need to be what others consider to be the best colleges. Applying to colleges that fulfill the abovementioned criteria can help you have a fulfilling college experience. You want to look at all of these factors to determine which college will be right for you. Most people do not spend adequate time examining these aspects, but you should thoroughly investigate each of the five aspects of your potential college.

Your Timeline

The application process timeline is another critical factor to consider when applying to colleges.

  1. Spring of Junior Year: Begin your college search and visit campuses if possible. Start preparing for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT.
  2. Summer Before Senior Year: Narrow down your college list and start working on your application essays.
  3. Fall of Senior Year: Complete and submit applications, particularly if you’re applying for early decision or early action. Also, ensure to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible after October 1st.
  4. Winter of Senior Year: Regular decision applications are typically due. After submission, follow up with colleges to make sure they receive all necessary documents.
  5. Spring of Senior Year: Expect to receive college application decisions by April. If accepted to multiple colleges, consider your options and make your final decision.

It’s important to note that each college may have different deadlines, so always check the specific dates on the colleges’ websites.

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