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What’s the Magic Number for College Applications?

It’s that time of year – college application submission deadlines are quickly running out, and before you know it, you and all your classmates will be waiting anxiously by the mailbox hoping for that all-important acceptance letter. But now that you have all your test scores in hand and have begun to send out applications, you’re probably wondering: how many applications should I send. The verdict is out, but we have some tips for figuring out your perfect number.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
What’s the Magic Number for College Applications?

Maybe you have one dream school that you’ve been aiming for your entire high school career, or you can’t contemplate studying anywhere that doesn’t have an ocean view. Or perhaps you are set on studying a very specific form of inorganic chemistry or majoring in post-War Russian literature. Maybe you have no idea where or what you’d like to study. Whether you have one dream school or many options, you probably know that you need to send out a few college applications. But how many should you send, and is it possible to send too many? There’s no magic number, but here are some tips to help you apply to all the right schools.

1. Consider the cost

Everyone knows that college is expensive, but even applying to college comes with a hefty price tag. It’s important to have a budget when sending out applications – most colleges charge an application fee, which can be as much as $100. Even if your budget allows for unlimited applications, or you qualify for application fee waivers, college applications have other associated costs. If you’re serious about a school, you should try to visit the campus and depending on the location relative to you, that could mean some serious travel expenses. In the end, the application fees and travel costs will be just a small fraction of your actual college expenses, which is why it’s important to take the process seriously. The number of applications you send should be balanced against your budget and your desire for options.

2. Balance your list


Even if you have one dream school, and you’ve successfully planned all of your high school studies with that school as your goal, you should still consider applying to a few additional schools…just in case. Most experts group college applications into three groups: dream schools, good matches, and safety schools. Dream schools can also be good matches, but for most students their dream school comes with some potential hurdles – grades, tuition fees, distance, or competitive programs. That’s why you should research and consider some good-match schools – schools with programs that fit your academic goals and reasonable admission and tuition requirements. Safety schools are schools where you are likely to be admitted. But choose your dream, match, and safety schools wisely – don’t bother applying to schools in which you have no interest. Concentrate instead on finding several good-match schools and a few safety schools that will fit your academic requirements and budget. Remember, apply to other schools won’t hurt your chances with your dream school, but unless you’re willing to forgo university entirely if you can’t attend your first-choice it’s a good idea to have some back-up ideas.

3. Find your specialty

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If you’re set on your major but unsure where to study, try to find schools that offer programs that are specific to your interests. Most universities offer history courses, but not all have faculty and courses dedicated to Cold War espionage. Or maybe you’re a budding documentary filmmaker who wants to major in film studies with a minor in geology. A school with a strong media studies and science department would be an excellent choice. Whatever it is you want to study, take the time to do a bit of research and find the best school for your academic and career goals. Specialty schools could be either good-match schools or safety schools. Or one may just be your dream school.

4. Listen to the experts

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There’s no formula or algorithm for determining the correct number of college applications, but most college admissions officers advise students to apply to a minimum of five schools and a maximum of eight. That means your list should include at least one dream school and two each of good-match and safety schools. But admissions experts also warn against apply to too many schools. Apart from the expense and time constraints, applicants who apply to more than eight schools are unlikely to have the ability to consider seriously all their applications, let alone the potential flood of acceptance letters. It’s better to do good and thorough research on a few schools than to apply a scatter-shot method and end up in a school or program that doesn’t offer much more than a degree.

5. Don’t panic

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In the end, it’s about keeping a level head. College applications are stressful, and it goes without saying that some colleges and universities can be very competitive. But the reality is that the majority of colleges accept a large percentage of their applicants, and as long as you make a few, well-informed applications, it’s very likely that you’ll be accepted to one or more suitable schools. So take a deep breath, spend some time researching schools, and make a list that’s right for you. And don’t forget to take some chances - you never know where you might end up!

Read more about studying in the USA.