The college application process is hard enough work to complete without the added pressure of feeling like you have to apply to a million schools to stand a chance. Or, on the opposite end, worrying so much about making a wrong decision that you end up in decision paralysis—with just one or two ‘safe’ schools in your stack. Neither one of these extremes is balanced!
You may wonder, “How many colleges should I apply to?” The answer may surprise you—in fact, there is no one magic number. There are several factors that will influence this number for each individual student. However, while it varies for each person, it’s likely not as high as you think.
In this blog post, we’ll explore why there isn’t an exact number when it comes to college applications. We’ll also give you some tips on how to choose the right colleges to apply to for you and your goals.
The Advantages of Applying to Multiple Colleges
As the saying goes, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Applying to several colleges—but not an unreasonable number—opens you up to a broader range of opportunities that fit your interests and academic goals.
There are several key advantages to applying to more than just one or two colleges. For one, submitting applications to multiple schools increases your chances of getting into at least one (or more) of your top choices. Additionally, it allows you to compare financial aid and scholarship offers from different schools to make the best decision for your future.
Applying to multiple colleges also gives you the opportunity to explore different areas of the country (or world!) and find the perfect fit for your individual needs. And finally, it helps to ease the pressure of making a final decision—if you’re accepted into more than one school, you can take your time to choose which one is right for you.
Applying to a Variety of Colleges Can Help You Find the Right Fit
With so many colleges to choose from, it can be challenging to know where to start—and which ones are places where you’ll be happy and successful. There are numerous voices telling you what’s important and competing for your attention. It’s easy to second-guess yourself at every turn.
Some legitimate factors to consider when choosing a college include the size of the student body, the location, the type of campus, and the academic programs available. After all, it is essential to find a school with the right atmosphere for you that offers programs you want.
Even after you’ve narrowed down your list of potential colleges by academic offering, it sometimes can be tough to tell if the school is right for you. One way that applying to a variety of colleges can help you is by pushing you to articulate specifically why you want to attend that school. Researching the details of each campus community will help you stand out from similar applicants.
Finally, diversifying your applications ensures you don’t miss anything. While college admissions may feel somewhat arbitrary, the admissions officer does have an interest in making sure you will be a good fit for them. Perhaps your test scores indicate you might struggle with the coursework there. Or maybe your chosen major has too many students already, meaning it would be difficult for you to register for required classes and graduate on time.
Regardless of the reason, when a school you were excited about doesn’t accept you, try to see it as a sign that things are going on behind the scenes to indicate it probably wasn’t the best fit. And vice versa, your acceptance letter is a green light!
The Most Selective Colleges Aren’t Always the Best Choice
There’s a lot of pressure on high school students to get into the “best” college. But what does that mean, exactly? For some students, it might mean going to the most selective college they can get into. But is that always the best choice?
The most selective colleges are exceedingly competitive, and getting in isn’t always a guarantee of your student’s future career success. These elite institutions often have some of the lowest acceptance rates and are difficult to get into, resulting in extreme pressure on students to perform well. And even if you do get in, you might not be happy with the potentially cutthroat experience. The most selective and prestigious colleges aren’t always the best fit for every student.
While some students thrive on competition, attending a university surrounded by ambitious and driven peers may be too stressful for others. Or even if you can handle the stress, you may find that the student population is one you don’t mesh with. In the end, you have to choose your own environment for the next four years, so make sure it’s one you like. While you may have the grades and background to get into a selective college, consider if it really offers the best experience to you.
Apply to a Range of Schools
When deciding how many colleges you should apply to, be sure to include a range of schools. Apply to colleges in three categories:
- Reach schools—Schools with more rigorous requirements and where it may be difficult for you to get into.
- Target schools—Schools where your GPA and test scores are a good match for their requirements.
- Safety schools—Schools with high acceptance rates and where your grades and scores make it likely you’ll get in.
By applying to two or three schools in each of these categories, you’ll give yourself a good chance of being accepted by more than one school. And applying to several ‘reach’ schools may offer up a surprise. While you may be declined at one or more, another may see your potential and offer you a spot.
How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?
A common piece of advice is to apply to between 5 and 10 colleges, and this is a good range to aim for. Applying to too many colleges can be overwhelming and take away from your focus on each individual application. In fact, students with more than 10 applications are typically considered “high volume” applicants. This can also lead to you being less selective in your choices, and you may end up attending a college that isn’t truly right for you.
On the flip side, you don’t want to submit too few college applications. Applying to multiple colleges can help you manage your expectations. If you have your heart set on one particular school and apply only to it, you’ll likely be disappointed if you don’t get in and will be left scrambling for options. But if you’ve applied to a few schools, you’re more likely to be happy wherever you end up.
There is no one magic number of colleges to apply to. Some students will apply to only a few, and others will apply to fifteen or more. For many students, the “sweet spot” range falls somewhere between 6 to 8 colleges. Additionally, with college application fees approaching $75 or more, applying to a larger number of colleges can be pricey.
So what should you do if you’re trying to decide how many colleges to apply to? We advise starting with your top 3 or 4 choices and going from there. Then, as you learn more about each school and yourself during the application process, you can add or remove schools from your list until you’re left with 6 or 8 colleges that feel like the right fit and offer a range of reach, target, and safety schools.
Why More Isn’t the Best for Everyone
There’s a lot of pressure to apply to a ton of colleges, but more isn’t always better. In fact, applying to too many colleges can actually work against you.
It’s true, you don’t want to put all your hopes on one school. On the one hand, applying to more colleges gives you more options and increases your chances of being accepted somewhere. But on the other hand, applying to too many colleges can be overwhelming and expensive.
It’s important to find a balance between how much time and effort you can realistically put into each application while still maintaining a high quality for each one. There’s no point in writing 50 essays if they won’t represent you in the best light and end up hurting your chances of getting accepted anywhere. Focus your time on crafting the best essays you can for a smaller number of schools.
How Many Colleges Can You Apply To?
The bottom line is this: there is no perfect number of college applications to submit. But there is a sweet spot—applying to too many schools can be costly and time-consuming, while applying to too few can limit your options.
The right number of colleges to apply to is different for everyone, and students should aim for a mix of safety, target, and reach schools. The most important thing is to make sure you apply to colleges that will give you the best chance of getting into somewhere you’ll be happy.
A College Admissions Counselor from Empowerly Can Help
An admissions counselor can help you navigate the tricky world of applying to colleges. At Empowerly, we’re experts in all things college-related. Our counselors can guide you on which colleges to apply to and help strengthen your college application.
It’s never too early to start thinking about college. Reach out today for personalized counseling with one of our enrollment specialists.