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How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?

In the current climate of competitive admissions, many high school seniors question how many colleges they should apply to for an acceptance letter to come their way. College applications are very time-consuming and can be pricey with fees up to $100 each, so it's important that you don't apply to too many schools. While there is no specific magic number, it's generally advised that five to eight applications are enough to guarantee a student will find a spot in a suitable institution. Rather than doting on the number, carefully apply only to schools where you can see yourself growing and being happy. Below we've provided some helpful tips for determining which schools you should apply to and which to forget.

Narrowing Down Your Options

By the end of your junior year, you should have around 15 possible colleges that you are considering. You'll then need to narrow down your list by meticulously researching the schools, scheduling campus tours, talking with current students, attending open houses, and meeting with admissions counselors. It's likely that you've already looked into important factors like location, degree programs, and class sizes, but dig a bit deeper to find the best matches. You should research into academic opportunities, hands-on learning options, extra-curricular activities, student clubs, housing availability, faculty credentials, accreditation, and campus facilities. Then, you'll have a more manageable list of prospective colleges that you'd be satisfied attending.

Sorting Your College Picks

Once you have a whittled down list, it's essential that you sort them into three main categories to ensure that you are making wise application choices. You'll want to label each of your choices as match, reach, or safety schools. Match schools are institutions where your academic abilities fall well within the school's admissions range, so acceptance is possible. Reach schools are colleges where your academic achievements fall below the school's normal range. For instance, if you have achieved a 2.5 cumulative high school GPA, Ivy League universities would be reach schools. Finally, safety schools are institutions where your grades fall well above the school's normal admissions range and you can have confidence you'll be accepted.

Completing Your Application List

Now that you've sorted your picks into these categories, you can balance out your application list by choosing a number of each. It's typically advised that students apply to one or two safeties, two to four good matches, and one to two reaches. Applying to a selection of schools will maximize your chances of being accepted somewhere you'll enjoy. If you're successfully identified at least one good safety school, you should have confidence that you'll receive at least one acceptance letter come spring.

Overall, you should think carefully before wasting the effort of applying to more than eight colleges because the general rule of thumb is that quality is better than quantity. Instead of cranking out applications like a machine, take the time to complete each application with care and answer each question thoroughly. Make an effort to show admission committees that you're serious about joining and improving their campus community. From there, you'll have the best chance of crafting impressive college applications and receiving acceptance letters from colleges offering you a spot in their upcoming freshman class.

Related Resource: Best Value Schools - Writing an Effective College Application Essay?

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