The average student will submit between five and eight college applications. But is that enough? And how many college applications is too many? Forbes reports that some students will submit as many as 30 or 40 college applications! Spoiler alert: that’s way too many. There must be a happy medium. But how do you know where that medium is? How many college applications should you send out? And what if you plan to attend an elite school? Does that impact how many applications you should submit?
Well, considering most colleges charge somewhere between $30 and $75 for an application, cost is certainly a factor. But what else must you consider when deciding how many applications to complete? With prospective college students submitting a larger number of applications with each passing year, how can you be sure you’re maximizing your opportunities without overdoing it?
If you’re ready to jump right in and figure it out, we recommend using our College Strategist tool, where you can enter in factors such as your standardized test scores, intended major, and state of residence, and instantly receive a list of schools divided into Safety, Target and Reach categories.
But if you’re still not sure where to draw the line, read on for some helpful tips as you decide how many schools will receive your application:
Part of determining the number of applications that you’ll actually submit is figuring out which schools are truly within your range. That doesn’t mean that every application you send is a sure thing, nor does it mean that you’ll be applying entirely to schools where you’re a shoe-in. Instead, the goal is to achieve balance by applying to a spread of schools. As you narrow down your list, you should begin to break schools out into the following three categories.
Part of determining the number of applications that you'll actually submit is figuring out which schools are truly within your range.”
For a more detailed discussion on how to categorize your list of prospective colleges and universities, check out How to Choose Your Safety, Target, and Reach Schools.
The answer to this question can vary from one student to the next. Your educational goals, your past academic performance, your intended degree program and your financial situation will all play a role. Follow these steps as you map out your application strategy:
If you are a top student with your sights set on a top 20 college or university, you may in fact find yourself submitting far more applications than the average student.”
Need some inspiration? Check out our list of the Best Colleges and Universities for 2021.
You may also want to check out our discussions with college admissions expert Jeff Selingo to find out why it’s so hard to get into the top schools! We also have a great interview with Jeff where he discusses who gets into college and why. And if you love what you hear, check out Selingo’s new book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. We also have an in-depth review of the book.
Whatever your personal situation, the reality is that you are almost certainly applying to more colleges than did prospective students of just a few generations ago. Forbes points out that, according to 2015 statistics from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, “36 percent of first-time freshman applicants applied to seven or more colleges, just over double the percentage from a decade earlier.”
In one respect, this seems to make a lot of sense. If you look only at admission figures around elite colleges and universities, you could get the impression that it’s harder to get into college than ever before. According to Forbes, “The most competitive schools are admitting a lower percentage of students every year.”
This suggests an uphill climb for applicants, especially those with their hearts set on the Ivy League. So it’s easy to see why more students are producing more applications. But does this approach actually make sense? Well, the top schools may be getting more selective but, interestingly, the broader college landscape is actually more accessible than ever before.
With a wide selection of mid-tier, online, and career college options, students have plenty of choices before them. Unless you feel you must attend an elite college or university, your chances of admission at a suitable college are pretty good, as long as you are realistic about your options.
Many of the colleges on your list are likely experiencing increases in acceptance rates—especially in the midst of the higher education shakeup catalyzed by the COVID-19 crisis. To this end, CNBC reports that “Colleges acceptance rates are up from recent lows and may go higher as schools start aggressively courting applicants.”
In other words, the number of applications you send out may depend on where you set your sights. If you compile your list realistically, and you seek admission into schools where you are a natural fit, there’s a good chance you’ll get into at least one of the schools you desire without having to paper the universe in applications.
In fact, according to Insider Higher Education, “In 2017-18, 65 percent of the one million students using the Common App platform applied to five or fewer colleges. Another 26 percent applied to six to 10. That leaves 11 percent who applied to more than 10, with 2 percent applying to more than 15.”
On the fringes, there will be students who apply to far fewer schools (perhaps because they are highly-recruited athletes who already know where they’re headed), and students who submit far more applications (perhaps because they are playing the high-stakes, steep-odds game of getting into an elite school). But the majority of students aren’t athletic recruits and most aren’t setting their sights exclusively on the elite schools.
In other words, if you don’t find yourself in one of these exclusive groups, welcome to the club. If you follow the guidance outlined above, you will likely land somewhere in the 50th percentile, which, as we noted from the outset, means you’ll send out somewhere between five and eight applications. Good luck!***
So now that you have a pretty good idea of how many schools you’ll want to apply to, how can you identify your safety, target, and reach schools? Well, we have a tool that makes it easy! Before you start sending out applications, visit the College Strategist and build your list today!