How many schools should I apply to?
This is a great question. Interestingly, most of the professional websites like the College Board suggest a list of five to eight schools that feature a variety of reach, target, and safe schools. The College Board discusses how many applications are enough, and explains the process of creating a list and then narrowing it down. USA Today addresses the question of how many colleges you should apply to, and quotes Allen Grove of About.com, who says that a list of six to eight schools is sufficient. In his article “How Many College Applications are Too Many?” Dan Edmonds suggests a significantly higher number of 10 to 15 schools with a detailed and logical approach to selection.
I have found, however, that most students and parents adhere more closely to a limit of 15 to 20 schools. The Common Application offers over 700 colleges and universities and allows for 20 schools to be listed on a student’s dashboard. Add to that the large number of schools that have their own application (MIT, Penn State, and the University of Maryland, for example), they will reach for another four to five schools. Since most of the schools have fees under $100 each, many parents feel that is a virtual drop in the bucket considering the cost of tuition, room and board, so why not fill all the spaces?
I have had clients come to me with a spreadsheet or a wish list of 30 schools or more. Many of the schools are reaches; some are colleges that friends or family members are attending; some are dream schools and others are safeties. My fellow members of the IECA (Independent Educational Consultant Association) often swap stories about which schools are going to be tough this year, which ones are eager to increase their number of applicants (not to admit them, but to be able to boast a large applicant pool), and which ones are a sure bet. We want our children to succeed at the school that suits them the best, but with all of the many factors that go into the admissions process, families have learned the hard way that there is “no such thing as a sure thing.”
That won’t stop the students who might actually create two different Common Application user names and passwords to get around the restriction and apply to 40 schools, just to see where they would be accepted, though. We are shoppers and consumers, and there are so many goodies out there!
And so if I have any say in the matter, I go for the 5/5/5 rule: split among reaches, targets and safety schools. But I always advise my clients to be sure that whatever names go on the list would be colleges or universities that have the major in which the student is interested, that are within the geographic and other dynamic restrictions placed upon the choice by parents, and that he or she would actually attend if admitted.
Bottom line: Do your homework. Eliminate the names that just sound pretty or would allow you to wear your favorite color. Find schools that work for you!