How Many Applications Should You Send?

“I’m going to apply to lots and lots of schools. Then at least I’ll get in somewhere!”

Does that sound like you? It’s what many students think, and the sentiment is reflected in recent huge increases in college applications.

It’s not uncommon for students to apply to as many as 20 schools. Two key reasons for the rising numbers are the widening acceptance of the Common Application, by which students can file multiple applications with one form, and the option to apply online, which often does not require a fee.

But the problem is, filing tons of applications does not guarantee admission.

On the contrary: the more applications a college receives, the more likely students will be rejected because there’s more competition for the same number of slots.

What’s the Magic Number?

So what is the correct number? Guidance counselors and other experts usually recommend that students start by considering around 15 colleges and narrow the field down to between 6 and 8. However, the selection strategy is as important as the number. Each choice should fall into one of three categories: Safety, Match or Reach.

A Safe Place

You should pick one or two schools where your grades and test scores are way above those of most admitted students. (You can find this information and other statistics on the college’s website.)

Be careful: the most selective schools should not be considered safety schools for anyone, regardless of qualifications.

A Good Match

Another two or three schools should be places where your grades and scores will be comparable to those of admitted students. However, because admission depends on many factors besides academics, you may still not be accepted.

It’s worth looking at other features of admitted students, such as geographical distribution. All things being equal, a student from New Mexico may be accepted at a northeast college before a student from Connecticut.

A Bit of a Stretch

This category includes colleges whose admitted students’ test scores and high school grades may be well above those of you. Obviously, if there is too great a difference, it’s not worth the time and money to apply.

However, perhaps you have good scores and grades along with some extraordinary off-setting achievement, strength or talent. Even the most competitive schools seek diversity and balance in their entering classes.

Happiness: The Top Choice

Every school you choose, even a safety school, should be someplace you would really want to attend for at least four years.

All schools should offer the programs and environment to challenge, sustain and prepare yourself for a meaningful career and life.


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