How Many Colleges Should I Apply To? - Tips to Follow

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  • 0:07 Applying
  • 0:32 Schools
  • 3:23 Your Unique Situation
  • 7:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Carrie Lin

Carrie is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who specializes in career counseling.

The number of colleges you should apply to isn't set in stone. It depends on your unique situation. This video will help you think through and decide how many colleges you should apply to.

In General, Apply to Six to Eight Schools

The typical advice, which I agree with, is to apply to six to eight schools. This range is enough to give you lots of opportunities for being admitted, but it's not so many that you'll be spending tons of time and money on applications. Of course, you'll want to do lots of research before you choose which schools to apply, and you'll want to carefully assess your chances of getting in.

Match, Safety and Reach Schools

The schools you apply to should include some combination of match schools, safety schools and reach schools. Let's go over what those are.

First, we have match schools. A match school is a school you're quite likely to get into. How do you determine that? Look at your GPA and test scores (such as SAT and ACT). Now see how they compare to the average GPA and test scores of admitted students. This information is usually available on the college's website or through other resources you may be using to research schools. Match schools are those in which your GPA and test scores are just about the same as the average admitted student.

Next, we have safety schools. A safety school is a school you can easily get into (although remember there are no guarantees in life but death and taxes!). Keep in mind they are also schools you would be happy attending. In other words, a safety school isn't a school you hope and pray you don't have to attend! A safety school is one in which your GPA and test scores are higher than they are for the average admitted student.

There's one note of caution, though, and it concerns top-ranked schools. What is a top-ranked school? It's a college that's considered one of the best based on a variety of factors. For example, U.S. News & World Report and Forbes both publish lists of top-ranked schools. These schools are ultra-competitive, and their acceptance rates are extremely low. What that means is, even if your GPA and test scores are through the roof, you should never consider a top-ranked school to be a safety school. They're just too hard to get into.

And finally, we have reach schools. As you might have guessed, a reach school is a school you're not likely to get into - but you just never know! It's one in which your GPA and test scores are on the low side, compared to the average admitted student. Keep in mind that a reach school isn't the same as a pipe dream school. In other words, don't waste time and money applying to schools if you don't really stand a chance of getting in.

With reach schools, since your GPA and test scores aren't up to par, you'll need find another way to stand out. One more thing: Just as top-ranked colleges should never be considered safety schools, they should always be considered reach schools - even if your GPA and test scores are off the charts.

Consider Your Unique Situation

As I frequently tell students, college and career decisions are personal and individual. They are based on your own needs, desires and goals. So be wary of anyone who tells you to follow a cookie cutter approach to such an important decision.

Even though I suggested you apply to six to eight colleges, that's just an estimate. The exact number of schools you apply to will vary depending on your specific situation. When you're deciding on the number of colleges to apply to, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How much money can you afford to spend on applications?

Most colleges have an application fee. There's a large range of fees, with the more prestigious schools generally charging more. If money is tight, you may want to apply to fewer schools - for example, one match school, one safety school and one reach school. If you still have some time before you apply to colleges, you can start saving money for applications now.

2. How much time do you have to spend on applications?

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