To How Many Colleges Should a Person Apply?
I was talking to a high school senior last April who told me he had applied to 17 colleges and universities. I told him if he had consulted with me, I would have advised him that 17 is far too many. I then asked him, "Who let you do that?!" He admitted that others had advised him to trim his list, but he did not listen to them.
Part of “Adam’s” rationale was that the schools to which he was applying had very low admission rates (including all 8 Ivies), and, given the “lottery-like" nature of getting in to those schools, he’d have a better chance if he bought more lottery tickets. His goal was to get into an Ivy League school, not to pick a college that would be right for him. In addition, he was rejected by the school to which he had applied Early Decision, an experience that left him feeling vulnerable and unsure of his chances of being admitted to other similar schools.
Adam claimed that, after completing the first five applications, the rest were easy, to which his good friend standing nearby interjected, “No, it wasn't. Don’t you remember?! You were going crazy right before the deadline. You were really stressed out.” Not to mention that his parents shelled out about $1,300 in application fees. His decision took a very large financial and emotional toll on him and his family.
In the end, Adam was rejected by 14 schools and admitted to three: his state university, another nearby state university, and one of the Ivies. Deep down, he was disappointed by the outcome, but felt he could not express that to others since, after all, he'd accomplished his goal of being admitted to an Ivy League school (though not the one he actually liked).
I do not recommend Adam's philosophy or strategy. Students should think hard about which colleges will give them what they want, need and deserve. Where will they thrive? This is not about what sticker your Mother puts on her car or some misguided competition with your friends. It is about being in a place for four years where you will grow the most academically, socially, and personally.
Five to eight target schools is sufficient if they are carefully chosen. 1-3 "reach" schools, 2-3 "on-target" schools and 1-3"very likely" schools.
And, for heaven's sake, don't apply to School X if you wouldn't go there if admitted. As a client recently told me, "If I only get into X, I'll probably take a gap year and reapply." We eliminated School X from his list.
This article offers five ways to think about the question:
"5 Steps to Choose How Many College Applications to Send":