How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?
Reader John J. read my earlier article about the increased number of applications colleges are receiving, in which I reveal that the average student applied to more than a dozen universities this season. He asks a question I hear frequently from students:
It seems like colleges are becoming more selective with their applicants because each of them are receiving a lot more applications each year. Does this mean I should apply to even more colleges? My counselor recommended that I apply to 3 reach schools, 3 good matches, and 3 safeties, but I'm afraid that 9 isn't enough. Does this sound like a good number? Can schools see how many colleges you've applied to? Do they care?
Hi, John. Great questions. I'll start by answering your last ones first.
Yes, colleges are able to see how many schools you have applied to. They can do this by looking at your FAFSA -- the form you filled out for federal financial aid. Because you have to list all of the universities you may potentially attend on the form, admissions officers have figured out that looking at your list will reveal how many and which other colleges you are applying to. And, yes, some do care.
Choosing the number of students to accept in any given year is a difficult art for admissions committees. They must make sure to accept enough students to make up for the fact that many will decide to attend a different school, but not so many as to over-enroll the university. As a result, they like to minimize their risk as much as possible. They do this by selecting qualified applicants who also seem likely to attend the college. If an overqualified student applies to their school and also to 20 others, the admissions officers may decide that the applicant is not worth the risk and deny their application. This is why some students experience rejection from colleges they thought were "safeties".
Put yourself in their position: would you ask a girl out on a date if you were almost certain she would say 'no'? A college doesn't want to take that risk either.
Your counselor gave you good advice. However, applying to 9 colleges should be the absolute maximum. I generally recommend about 5-7: 2-3 reaches, 2 good fits, and 1-2 safety schools. However, you have to be realistic in your categorization of colleges. In other words, Harvard is never a 'safety' no matter how good of a student you are.
Stick to those magic numbers and you are very unlikely to be penalized for over-applying. It might be tempting to send out tons of applications, especially since it's easy to apply online to most universities. However, resist this temptation. Pick the 5-7 colleges that interest you the most and focus your attentions on them. Your time is better spent refining those specific college essays anyway.
Good luck!Have any insight on this topic? Want to ask a question or make a suggestion? Click here to leave a comment.
- College Application Purgatory: What you Must Do if You’re Waitlisted
- Should I cancel my SAT score?
- Standing Out in a Sea of 121,000: The UC Admissions Game This Year
- Massive Increase in 2008 Applications
- Does Using Other Acceptances as Leverage to get more Financial Aid Work?
- College Admission Requirements for Homeschoolers
- What to Do During Spring Break