Recommended Number of College Applications per Student
The Cappex College Admissions Counseling Survey asked counselors about the number of college admissions applications they recommend students submit and the actual number of applications submitted. The average recommended number of applications was 5.9, about the same as the actual number of applications submitted, 5.8. The majority of students submitted 3, 4, 5 or 6 applications, according to the counselors, consistent with the recommended number of applications. More than 90 percent of the counselors reported that their students submitted 10 or fewer applications.
As shown in this chart, however, there were a few noteworthy differences, even though the average number of applications were similar. In particular, counselors were much more likely to recommend that students apply to 5 colleges. In contrast, some students were more likely to apply to 2 or 3 colleges while others applied to a much greater number of colleges. Curiously, no students applied to 13 colleges, perhaps because 13 is considered an unlucky number?
This data suggests that some students aren't applying to enough colleges. Given that the average national acceptance rate is 56 percent, the raw odds of a student getting into no colleges is 19 percent if the student applies to 2 colleges and 8.5 percent if the student applies to 3 colleges. If the student applies to only 3 colleges, all of which are among the top 100 most selective colleges (with an average admission rate of 18 percent of applicants), the odds are better than even (55 percent) that the student will get into no colleges. Increasing the number of applications reduces the odds of rejection.
Getting into a selective college involves an element of luck, not just skill, even for the most talented students. Many talented students are rejected by Ivy League institutions every year.
It is important that students apply to several colleges that are good matches for their background. If students apply to 5 to 10 colleges, as two-thirds of counselors recommend, odds are in their favor that they will be admitted to at least one college. But, even the best students should include at least one safety school in their application lists.
A match school is one where the student’s admissions test scores are between the 25th and 75th percentiles for the students enrolled at the college. If the student’s admissions test scores are above the 75th percentile for the college, the college is a safety school. If the student’s admissions test scores are below the 25th percentile for the college, the college is a reach.
Thus, most students should apply to 3-4 match schools, a safety school and a reach school. If the student applies to a good mix of colleges, the odds of being admitted to at least one college will be 98 percent.
All students should also apply to a financial aid safety school. A financial aid safety school is a college where the student will not only be admitted, but where the student could afford to enroll even if he or she gets no financial aid.
Cappex surveyed 545 counselors from February 25 through March 3, 2016.