How Many Schools Should I Apply To?

As acceptance rates drop lower and lower, more students panic and send out ever greater numbers of applications.

Many high school students have heard, ad nauseum, about the competitiveness of gaining admission into the colleges of their choice. This has led to an increase in applications with some students submitting applications nearing 20. When you are preparing to begin the application process, you might wonder how many applications you should submit. While there is not a black-and-white answer to this question, there are some general guidelines that you should keep in mind.

Why Students Are Applying to More Colleges

Today’s high school students are applying to more and more universities and colleges, and there are multiple factors that are driving the application frenzy. Each year, stories abound about the increasingly competitive college admissions process at elite schools. As acceptance rates drop lower and lower, more students panic and send out ever greater numbers of applications. But it is important to remember that applying to more schools does not increase your chances of acceptance.

The New York Times reports that today’s students are submitting applications to colleges at a frenetic pace with some students sending out 20, 30 or even more applications each year. The newspaper identifies several reasons for this trend. Students are panicked because of learning about the competitive admissions process. And, with more than 500 universities and colleges now accepting the Common Application, an increasing number of students are finding it easier to fire off more applications. Some students are driven by economic fears and apply to more colleges in order to try to find one that meets their financial needs. Applying to as many colleges as possible may not be the best strategy, however.

How Applying to Too Many Colleges Can Hurt You

While some students think that they can increase their chances of gaining admission into an elite school by applying to many colleges, the approach can backfire. Experts point to the fact that the time involved in adequately crafting applications to elite schools is substantial. If you apply to too many schools, you will not have adequate time to devote to each application. Many schools also assess a student’s interest in attending in their admissions decisions metrics. Students who do not have the time to thoroughly research the schools to which they apply, to visit them and to reach out to admissions officers may not be taken seriously when their application is reviewed.

What Experts Recommend

While there is no magic number of colleges to which you should apply, most experts agree that you should narrow down your list into three categories of schools. Your list should include some aspirational schools that you may not quite be qualified to attend, some target schools to which you have the necessary qualifications, and some schools to which you are likely to be admitted. You should then research the schools on your list, visiting them if possible and trying to match them according to your personality, intended major, budgetary needs and your personal happiness. You should then apply to two or three schools in each category or somewhere around six to nine. Writing for the New York Times, one admissions officer recommended that students submit a maximum of six applications. While that number may be on the low end, it drives home the point of allowing yourself enough time to make certain that the schools to which you are applying are the right fit for you.

Important Considerations When Choosing the Colleges

When you are trying to narrow down your list of colleges, you should consider several factors, including the ABCs: Academics, Budget and Culture. You’ll want to research the schools according to your interests. If you are someone who enjoys the outdoors, you might want to steer clear of schools that are located in large cities. Some students prefer smaller, more intimate college settings with smaller classrooms conducive to discussions and participation, while others thrive on being a part of schools with massive student bodies. You will need to reflect on who you are and what makes you happy so that your ultimate choice will be one that fits your personality.

It is also important to look at the programs that different schools offer in the context of your intended major. If you are a science and technology person, you might want to consider an engineering and science-oriented school like MIT over other elite campuses. You will want to determine whether or not the schools have faculty with whom you’d like to work and what the campus cultures are like. Finally, researching the different financial aid and scholarship opportunities that are available at different schools should help you to further narrow down your list.

While it is understandable why students feel like they need to apply to as many schools as possible, that is normally not the best approach. When you try to hedge your bets of college admission by applying to too many schools, you risk getting admitted into a school that doesn’t fit you well or not getting accepted at all. In our experience, students who only apply to three or four schools are likely not applying to enough schools. At the same time, those who send out 30 applications are likely hurting their college admissions chances. By narrowing down your list to the colleges that fit you best in the three categories, you may increase your chances of gaining admission into a college and at which you will truly be happy.

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