The ease of online applications and today’s high-stakes, competitive college admissions process have led college-bound high schoolers to apply to a growing number of schools in recent years. About a third of students in 2013 submitted more than seven applications, double the percentage who did so a decade earlier, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling. And some students go to the extreme, applying to dozens of colleges.
But that load isn’t the norm—nor should it be, experts say. The average number of applications high schoolers fill out varies based on their region and whether they attend a public or private high school. But overall, Common Application users submit an average of 4.5 applications.
So what’s the magic number for you? The truth is, it depends.
For most students, counselors recommend applying to between six and eight colleges, with at least one safety school, one reach school, and a few good fit schools where you feel you’re likely to be admitted. It’s also smart to include a financial safety school, in case your top choices don’t offer a financial aid package that works for you. If you’re aiming to attend one of the country’s most selective colleges, then you may want to increase your number of applications to maximize your chance of getting in. But you shouldn’t go beyond 12 to 15 colleges, and most of the schools on your list should still be ones where you have strong odds of acceptance.
Why do college counselors say applying to 20 or more colleges isn’t a good idea? One reason is that it’s impractical. All the colleges that you apply to should ideally be places where you can see yourself enrolling if admitted. And to know that, you need to research each of the colleges, something you can’t do properly when your application list grows too long.
At a minimum, you should know whether each school offers the academic programs you’re interested in, how much it will cost you to attend, and your rough chances of getting in based on your academic record and the school’s selectivity.
For tips on how to apply without breaking the bank, read these smart ways to save on college applications.
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