How Many College Applications Are Too Many?

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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The competition for college admission, particularly amongst elite colleges, is fierce. As a result, more and more high school students feel compelled to apply to an exuberant number of colleges; many cling to hopes of increasing their odds of acceptance. There are a number of reasons this strategy may backfire, though… According to a number of college admissions professionals, prospective college students can, in fact, apply to too many colleges. This leads to the obvious question: how many college applications are too many?

Who do you ask?

The recommended number of college applications differs according to who you ask and what you’re looking for in a college. With that in mind, the recommended norm ranges from 5 to 15 colleges. Students applying to highly selective colleges may benefit from applying to more colleges, but students applying to colleges with higher acceptance rates will often find success when applying to fewer colleges.

Of course, deciding where to apply to college takes nuanced thinking and an understanding of your future goals. However, taking the following factors into consideration when narrowing down your list will still benefit most college applicants.

Consider the cost

In perhaps the most obvious and compelling reason to limit the number of colleges you apply to, applying to college is expensive. Even when using the Common App, college application fees add up quickly, not to mention the travel for college visits and interviews. In the end, you’ll want to save that money for the expenses of college itself.

Still, even if you have ample funds to work with, applying to college takes a lot of time. You want to have a strong application, and writing good essays, studying for standardized tests, and maintaining a good GPA does more for your odds of college acceptance than simply sending in a lot of applications. When it comes to college applications, quality beats quantity every time.

Instead, narrow down

With quality and expense in mind then, how do you narrow down your selection of colleges to apply to? You can do this in a number of ways. First, you will want to take a look at how selective the schools are on your current list. If you have a number of selective schools, you may want to apply to a few more than if you have a number of schools with high acceptance rates. In other words, your odds of admittance to the schools on your list should factor into how many of those schools you eventually apply to.

Get excited!

Most importantly though, you should apply to schools that you genuinely want to attend.  Anything beyond that is a waste. College may not be worth the expense if you can’t achieve your goals there, or if it significantly interferes with your well-being. College is about exploration, learning and growing, and preparing yourself for the pressures of the real world. While you’ll certainly want to attend a college that challenges you, there’s no reason to apply to selective schools simply to apply. So if you’re wondering how many college applications are too many, the short answer is, “Whatever amount will prevent you from truly reaching your goals in the long run.”

Questions? Let us know!