How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?
There are many answers, but experts suggest that you should have no more than eight or nine colleges on your list. We recommend three target schools, three safety schools, and three reach schools. Safety schools are colleges and universities that are almost certain to admit applicants. Pick two four-year colleges, and one community college if your GPA and test scores are low. Also, if you cannot afford a four-year school, a community college is a good alternative to save money and transfer to a four-year college later. Target schools are likely to take applicants and reach schools are those that are highly competitive and is going to be tough getting in, but well worth it and usually are the 'dream' schools. You can determine which category a school falls into based on the average test scores and GPA for its incoming students.
If you apply to too many school, it will cost you money (application fees, visits, etc.) and loss of focus. And it can be quite challenging when it's time to write application essays, which is one thing where you can differentiate yourself. You want to do a great job with your application, including visits and on going communication with schools of your choice. Having too many schools poses a challenge to your time, money and energy.
Although the Common Application has made college application easier, you still have to pay admissions fees for each institution. And we recommend visiting the specific campuses of interest and to make connections with faculty and staff. All of this takes time, money and energy.
Preserve your money and energy and focus only on a few schools. Applying to colleges takes work, and submitting applications to a large number of schools may ruin the quality of your applications. If you don’t know the school really well, then it’s hard to write really good essays and stand out from the thousands of applications the school receives each year. Remember, the acceptance rate is very low nowadays, mainly because anyone with a computer from around the world can apply. So standing out from the crowd is really tough. So focus on a few applications.
However, do not apply to a very small number either, say one or two. This may prevent you from maximizing your financial aid offers. If you apply to more schools, you are likely to get multiple financial aid offers, and you can use those offers to negotiate aid with schools.
Also, consider the academic quality and range of schools. If you apply to only two or three schools, and if they happen to be academically similar, you might risk getting rejected from all of them.
The only exception is if you are going for an early decision school. Schools like Duke University and University of Chicago offer early decision admissions, which requires you to attend the school if you are accepted early! This is different from the early action admissions, which allows you to apply before the regular admissions cycle, but does not require you to enroll if you are admitted.
And finally, you should think of the fit. Which schools will really prepare you for success? Are you really excited about going to the school? Or, are you going there because of family and peer pressure, or because it is well known? What is the campus size? Where is it located? Etc. You have to think of your own values and make a decision. Be motivated by love of your values and not by fear from peer pressure or anything else.
In college applications, quality trumps quantity. Focus on nine schools and create a compelling application for each. Even the safety schools should be the ones you would want to go to. Don't short change yourself. If you work hard, you deserve to go to a school of your choice.
And we at Hillview Prep are here to help you guide through your journey if you need some test prep or counseling help. We will work hard with you to maximize your chances of getting into your target and dream schools. Do not hesitate to contact us!