How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

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High school seniors have a lot to be worried about. At that age, it seems like every decision could make or break your entire life. All you can do is keep your head above water until graduation. Keep attending classes and striving for a good GPA and studying for your SATs. Even then, there’s so much space for confusion. What is a good GPA, and what score should you aim for when you’re taking your SATs? Sadly, the answers to those questions are completely dependent on your personal path — and the schools you’re going to aim for. So really, it’s best to sort out your list of potential colleges before you decide on anything else.

However, after stressing about everything else, having to decide which college you’re going to apply to seems like another burden you don’t need. Fortunately, nobody is forcing you to apply to only one. In fact, applying to multiple colleges is expected and even encouraged. Still, you might find yourself thinking: how many colleges should I apply to? How many is too many?

As luck would have it, that’s the very question we’re here to answer. Unlike those other questions you might be asking yourself right now, this one is relatively easy to answer. Basically, we’re going to take a look at the national average to get to the final number.

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

In order to answer your question, we’re going to need more information. If you’ve been wondering how many colleges should I apply to? — you’re in luck. We have several answers for you, so we’ll begin by talking about the average number of applications most students send out.

On the other hand, you don’t need to blindly follow what other people are doing. So we’ll also try to answer the question of whether you have to apply to as many colleges as other students. So without further ado, let’s see how many colleges most people have on their lists.

How Many Colleges Do Other Students Apply To?

The best way to answer your question is by looking at the average number of schools most students apply to. Generally, most people send anywhere between 7 and 10 applications. After all, even if you already know what you want to study, you’ll probably know of several colleges that offer courses for the major you’re looking for. And if that 7–10 number seems like you’d be going a bit overboard — think again.

As a high school senior, and even as a junior, you’re likely aware of your faults and virtues. That is to say, you know which schools you’re most likely to be able to get into. Well, those schools are what we’ll call your target schools — meaning that you’d likely be in their top 50% of admitted students. You should have about 3–4 candidates in that group.

Presumably, you may also know which schools would be a safe bet for someone with your GPA and test scores you’re likely to get. The schools in that category are your safety schools. Ideally, you should list at least 2 of those, but no more than 3. Remember, you’re expecting to get into those colleges easily.

Lastly, you can also include about 2 or 3 reach schools as well. These are incredibly selective colleges where you’d only be in the bottom 25% of applicants. Still, you should add those schools to your list even if you think you probably won’t get in. After all: what if you do get that acceptance letter?

If you’re not entirely sure which of your potential options belongs in which category, you ought to do some research before making your list. You can find how high your SAT scores and GPA should be for each of your possible schools online.

When Should Your Number of College Applications Change?

But let’s get back to your original question: how many colleges should I apply to? Obviously, not everyone sends out only 7–10 applications. For example, if you’re hell-bent on going to an Ivy League school, you would do well to hedge your bets. After all, many of these universities only accept a handful of people, so you shouldn’t rely on being accepted to any one of them. Besides, schools like Harvard or Stanford often have very specific kinds of candidates in mind even before the applications start pouring in.

In that case, you’ll need to send applications to all of the schools that would be a good fit. But remember to include some safety schools on that list as well. If your performance is good enough for Yale or Princeton, your pool of safety schools is probably fairly deep.

Should You Send Out Fewer College Applications?

On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons why someone would be unable to send out as many applications as they wanted to. Naturally, the financial reasons are near the top of that list. After all, some students pay as much as $75 per application. Even though most vulnerable groups can waive the fee, the cost can still be substantial, when you take into account the fact that you have to pay for your SAT and ACT scores. It’s not a stretch to say that many students end up paying over $1,000 when all is said and done.

Even if money is no object, you may still have to race against the clock to apply to all of the schools you want to pursue. If you don’t sort out your list of potential schools on time, you’d have to apply to all of them simultaneously. You may have to churn out 10 essays or more if the schools are asking for supplemental essays as well.

The time constraints are even more demanding if you’re trying to apply for early decision, which has to be done by November of your senior year in high school. If you are applying to get into a school early, you’d only get to send a single application. And if you get in, you have an obligation to attend.

Lastly, other restrictions may affect the number of applications you end up sending. For example, you could be interested in a rare field of study that only a few colleges offer. Alternately, if you’re unable to move away from home during your college years, you might have to look for schools close to home.

Closing Arguments on the Number of College Applications You Should Send

So, you see, answering the question we started with — how many colleges should I apply to? — really isn’t so cut and dried. On the one hand, most people send out an average of 10 applications or fewer. However, there are plenty of reasons why you might not get to that number, or why you might need to overshoot.

Ultimately, there’s no reason to waste your resources applying to schools you’re not enthusiastic about. After all, the colleges you apply to should all be schools you actually want to attend.

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