How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Sending out college applications can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. It’s a time to make plans for the future all while finishing the best year of high school, your senior year.

As a first generation college student, I had a lot of questions during this time of my life. What should I be looking for in a potential university? Where should I apply? How many applications should I send? All of these questions are relative to the type of experience you’re looking for and what you’re planning to study, but here’s a simple guide to how many applications to send and to which schools.

What the Experts Say

Most college counselors and experts say that it is best for a college applicant to apply to 5-8 schoolsThis is enough schools to make sure you cover your bases and have plenty of financial offers to compare, but not so many that you get overwhelmed.

It is important that you research all the colleges that you are applying to in order to see what they have to offer you and your future. If you do this, there shouldn’t be any reason to apply to more than eight schools.

Among your eight picks you should have one to two “safety” schools which are sure things, two to four “probable” schools which will fulfill desires but may not be the first choice, and one to two “reach” schools which are top schools but are least likely to accept the student.

However, these aren’t the magic numbers and everyone is different. I applied to three schools and here are the guidelines I used which are pretty similar to the ones that experts suggests.

The Affordable, Safe Bet

Make sure you have one or two options that are realistic for you. This could be a school that has a lower tuition or may offer you scholarships for grades, sports, etc. This school will be the safety net of sorts, and if plans fall through this can be your back up. 

The Wild Card

This school is the one that may or may not be a fit for you. It should be one that is affordable but may not be your first choice. It’s good to have an option like this in the mix because it could be the one that surprises you in the end.

The Dream School

You should always apply to the school of your dreams because you never know what’s possible. It could be that college in Hawaii or that school that has the most perfect program for your future. You should apply because you’ve worked hard in high school and it’s a total confidence booster to see that you can be awarded for your hard work. If it ends up being too expensive or just doesn’t seem like it’ll work out, at least you would know that you’d have a chance at attending the school of your dreams!

How to Choose

When choosing which school to attend, you should consider what type of experience you want to have, location, what programs the university has, and the financial aid/ scholarships that they offer. It’s important to choose a school based on what you want to study, but keep in mind that you will grow a lot through your college years, and what you want to study your freshman year may be vastly different from what you want to study your junior year. For this reason, it’s important to choose a school will give you the best opportunities to grow as a person and to allow you to explore what you like and don’t like to do.

For example, I attended up attending my wild card school my first year of college, and then ended up transferring to my safe bet my second year due to a realization of what I wanted to study. Everyone is different, but if I would have never gone to my wild card I would have never realized what my path was.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your college years will be what you make of them, no matter where you are. Just remember to have fun with the experience and to be open to any university. No matter how many schools you apply to or where you end up, you will be exactly where you need to be. 

Find your best fit college based on your finances, academics, needs and interests.