How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

In addition to gathering all of the application requirements: standardized test scores, transcripts, recommendation letters, essays, and so on, you also have to worry about selecting the right number of schools to submit applications to.

Let’s face it, those application fees can really start to add up if you apply to a ton of schools. That’s why you have to be strategic in your planning.

So, how many schools should you apply to?

You should apply to at least 5-7 schools. When you only apply to one or two schools, you are taking a risk. You may be turned down or you might be narrowing your options too quickly.

When determining your top 5-7, your list must consist of the right mixture of schools based on the likelihood of you getting accepted. You must ensure that you have a balance of Long-Shots, Targets, and Safeties.

What’s a Long-Shot School?

You should choose 1-2 “long-shot” schools. A long-shot school is an academically challenging school where your competition will be high and the admissions committee’s decision will be based on how you stack up to their admissions requirements. These are schools that you know you only have a slight chance of being accepted to.

You can determine if one of the schools on your list is a long-shot by evaluating how well your academic profile matches up with their admissions requirements. If your grade point average or standardized test scores are below the school’s average, then you might want to consider this school a long-shot.

You should include a couple of these types on your list; you might just be surprised by the outcome. You could make it to the wait-list, or better yet, you could get accepted!

What is a Target School?

You should choose 2-3 “target” schools. A target school is a school that you’re pretty certain you’ll get accepted to. You’ve checked out all of their admission requirements (GPA, average ACT/SAT score, course requirements, etc.) and your academic profile seems to match up quite well with previously admitted students.

Since you meet most or all of their admissions requirements, you should feel confident that you have a good chance of being admitted to these colleges, while keeping in mind that there is a slight possibility of denial.

Having a hard time selecting target schools? No worries. Try talking to your high school counselor.  He or she should be able to help you determine if a certain school on your list should be considered a target.

What is a Safety School?

You should choose 1-2 “safety” schools. A safety school is a school that you should be admitted to without difficulty based on their admissions requirements and your grades, test scores, etc.

Make sure that you select your safety schools carefully.  Your safety list should include schools that you believe will provide you with a good education and a place that will make you happy. While these schools most likely won’t make it to the top of your list, these should at least be schools that you wouldn’t mind attending if all other options fell through.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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