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One question college advisors hear almost every week is “How many colleges should I apply to?” There’s not one number that is right for everyone. Some students apply to as few as three or four colleges, when the schools they are most excited about also happen to be schools where they are highly likely to be admitted. But some students and parents get nervous if they haven’t submitted at least eight applications, especially when they hear about other students who are applying to a dozen or more schools. The anxiety and feeling of competition leads them to apply to additional colleges that they are not seriously considering, resulting in extra work for students and admission officers, hundreds of dollars in unnecessary application fees, and more stress for everyone.
Some students want to apply to the most selective schools in the country and think that they will improve their chances of being admitted to one of them by applying to all of them. While students are sometimes admitted to one Ivy and not another, it doesn’t follow that the more schools you apply to, the more acceptances you will gather. It is very possible for good students to apply to 15 of the most selective schools and end up with 15 rejections. In fact, a student who might have been admitted to one of these schools could end up sabotaging her chances by rushing to complete so many applications that she doesn’t take the time to tailor each application to a particular college. You are better off focusing your energy and submitting fewer thoughtfully prepared applications.
While it is essential to include some highly likely schools, the exact ratio of reach to highly likely schools depends on a number of factors, including your tolerance for rejection. If you dread the prospect of numerous rejections, apply to more highly likely and 50/50 schools and fewer reach schools. Focus on the one or two reach schools that you especially like. Otherwise you will always wonder if you would have been admitted. Students with a well-balanced college list will be rewarded by numerous options for college.
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