How Many Schools Should I Apply To?

The Admittedly Team
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So you've decided to apply to college, and are undertaking the formidable process of narrowing down your college list. For the uber-orderly among us, you’re doing this as early as mid-August. For people like me, it’s closer to mid-November. The thing is, there are so many factors that go into making your list, it’s often very difficult to determine one of the most basic questions: How many schools should I apply to?

Now, many people will tell you that you should apply in about a 1:3:1 ratio. This means one “reach” school– a dream school you might get into, but if we are being real, probably won’t. Three “match” schools–schools whose metrics, like SAT/ACT scores, average GPAs, etc. are similar to yours. This will realistically be the category of school you will probably end up attending. Lastly, one “safety” school– a school whose your metrics you exceed and you feel that you will most definitely get in. This formula leaves you with at least five applications, and if you want to add more, go ahead. Keep roughly to the ratio, but be reasonable. Don’t add three matches and a safety because you threw in a last-minute application to Harvard.

This approach is a good one, and many other college blogs have written extensively about it. However, there are two notable exceptions these blogs often overlook which I want to talk about.

Exception #1: The person who’s got it all figured out.

This person wants to go to a school they know they can afford and is reasonably certain they can get in based on SAT/ACT scores and GPA. If you are this person, congratulations! Senior year will be a lot less stressful for you than it is for the rest of us. Apply to the one school, throw in another in the same category in case you lose the college lottery and move on with your life. If you want to apply to the dream school you never thought you could get into, that’s not a bad idea either– anything can happen. If you know what you want, go for it! But make sure you submit a stellar application.

Exception #2: The person who might get in anywhere...or might not.

This person has good grades (A- average, minimum), good extracurricular and summer experiences, great recommendations…but is not a first-chair violinist, not doing original research, doesn’t have a 4.0 GPA or perfect SAT/ACT scores. Or maybe this person does have those metrics. Harvard rejects thousands of valedictorians every year. The problem for people in this category is that their would-be match schools are so hard to get into that they have only two categories: reach and safety. These are often the people with mile-long application lists, simply going off the top 20 schools according to US News. Don’t do that. If you’re in this category, apply to schools you genuinely like, regardless of how many people they admit. Then, add on two or three safeties (schools you will get into and you know you can afford, hopefully, that you like too) and call it a day.

In general, don’t plan to apply to more than 12 schools, or fewer than three (just in case). I ended up applying to 9, down from my original list of 17 and still far too many. Even from my pared-down list, at least four schools could have been eliminated. Remember, you need to put your all into each application, so applying willy-nilly is going to create more work than you need or are prepared for. Happy applying!

Article courtesy of Julia Book

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