How Many College Applications Should You Send?

on October 25, 2016

What is the right number of applications for college admissions? Every year, acceptance rates at the most selective colleges reach record lows. This causes anxious students to apply to more colleges, further driving down acceptance rates.


There is no limit to the number of college applications you can submit. As long as you can afford the application fees, you can apply away all day. And with online college application platforms making the application process easier than ever, you may be tempted to apply to 10, 12 or even 15 colleges.


Sending out more applications doesn’t necessarily increase your odds of being admitted to a college. But, there are some guidelines to follow when deciding how many applications to send.


College Application Statistics


During the college application process, some students fall into one of two traps: either they apply to far too many schools, or they do not apply to enough. Sometimes, students fear that they won’t get into any colleges or that they won’t get into any colleges they can afford.


Last year, more than half of college-bound high school seniors applied to five or fewer colleges, according to data from the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute’s American Freshman Survey. About 90 percent applied to 10 or fewer colleges.


If that number seems lower than the hype suggests, know this: There is a college for you out there. On average, 90 percent of colleges accept at least half of students who apply.


Not only are students getting admitted, they’re getting admitted to colleges they love. More than 94 percent of college freshmen enrolled at their top-three college choices.


Just as about 10 percent of college freshmen applied to more than 10 colleges, about 10 percent of college freshmen applied to only one college. Putting all of your eggs in one basket is never a good idea.


You should plan on applying to multiple colleges. Most school counselors recommend that their students apply to 3-6 colleges.


Choose Colleges Strategically


Your college applications shouldn’t go to colleges that are all too similar to each other. Don’t apply only to Ivy League colleges, or you will risk getting into no colleges, no matter how talented you are. It may be tempting to play the college admissions lottery, but don’t bet your future on being accepted by one of the most selective colleges.


Instead, be strategic in your college applications. Do your research in advance, so you know whether the colleges are a good fit. Use the Cappex Scattergram tool to judge how you measure up against the students at each college you are considering. Use the net price calculators on the college web sites to determine whether the colleges are affordable.


Make up your mind about where you want to go before you apply, instead of after you get in. Try to avoid applying to too many or too few colleges. Aim to apply to enough colleges that you have 2-3 colleges from which to choose when the college acceptance letters arrive.


Most of your college applications should be to match colleges, where you have a good chance of getting in, based on your grades and test scores. Your academic performance should be between the 25th and 75th percentiles among current students at these colleges, and preferably closer to the 75th percentile. The match colleges are a good fit for your academic, social and financial needs.


Then, hedge your bets by applying to at least one safety school and at least one reach school.


A safety school is a college where you have a very high chance of being admitted. Your grades and test scores are better than three-quarters of the current students. This college may be the state school near your home or it could be one of the more than 250 colleges which accept virtually 100 percent of applicants. Love your safety school just like you love your top choice and reach colleges. You just might end up attending, and enjoying, this college.


A financial aid safety school is a college where you will not only be accepted, but where you could afford to enroll even if you got no financial aid.


A reach school is a highly competitive college where the odds of admission are really, really low. Your GPA and SAT/ACT test scores are lower than the bottom 25 percent of current students. A reach college may be highly selective, or your grades and test scores may be just below par for the college. You should apply anyway to at least one reach college. If you apply, you might just get in.


The Ivy League colleges, Stanford and MIT should be considered reach colleges no matter how good your grades. Plenty of really talented students apply to these colleges each year, and plenty of really talented students are rejected by these colleges each year.

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