Applying to several colleges is not uncommon these days, but can you apply to too many, or even worse — not enough?
Sydney Alford applied to 10 colleges. She got into nine.
“I never as a kid had a dream school,” said Alford, who studied film at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., and is now an assistant director in television. “I was very undecided of what school to go to and got a lot of free application fees, so I figured why not throw out as many applications as I can?”
Applying to several colleges is not uncommon these days. Students are both applying to and enrolling in more colleges than ever, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which reported an increase of about 6.2 million students since fall 2000.
But even with a sharp increase in competition, should students go application crazy? The answer to that question seems more complicated than ever.
What’s the magic number?
As is the case with many “should I” questions, no black-and-white answer exists here. But some experts on college admissions have similar responses in regards to how many college applications students should submit.
Allen Grove, an admissions expert with the About.com College Admissions Guide, generally advises students apply to about six to eight colleges. That includes a couple of safety schools (schools you’ll no doubt get into), a couple of match schools (schools you meet the requirements for) and a couple of reach schools (schools that are less likely to accept you).
“It all depends,” Grove said. “Students who want to get into more highly selective colleges are going to put out more applications than that. If some students know they’re a good match to a school, a handful is fine.”
Even if you feel confident about getting into a school, it still makes sense to apply to more than one school. Grove has received several panic e-mails from overconfident students who didn’t get into any school.
“You want to make sure the student is being accurate in his or her self-assessment,” Grove said. “I’ve seen students think they’re a sure thing for a school, when in fact they’re qualified but not a shoe-in.”
This happened to Alford, who didn’t get into her top choice, Pepperdine University, and didn’t get the necessary funding to go to some of the other schools she got into. She was luckily able to re-negotiate funding at Biola last minute.
“I kind of came up short, ironically, after applying to 10 schools,” said Alford, who advises more decisive students to apply to four or five colleges.
Can you really apply to too many schools?
College applications can be time-consuming and pricey, costing as much as $100, unless you get the fees waived by the school or an organization. But even if cost doesn’t bother you, there really is such thing as applying to too many schools, many experts argue.
In an article for The New York Times, Jordanna Suriani, an admissions counselor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, wrote students who apply to several colleges because they’re undecided are doing themselves a disfavor come April when it’s time to make a decision. Once you get that acceptance letter, you have even less time to make a choice.
“Figure out what you need and want now, and apply to five or six schools, max, which offer you most, if not all of it,” Suriani wrote. “Forget about trying to get as many acceptances as possible to places that don’t speak to you. Trust me. Come April, you’ll be glad you did.”
Grove thinks it’s a little ridiculous when students apply to a dozen or more colleges. He can’t imagine how the student did that many campus visits, in addition to extensive research, and decided that many schools were good matches.
“You see students who apply to every single Ivy League,” Grove said. “I just have to wonder if the student who is going to like Columbia (in New York City) is really going to like Dartmouth (located in a town of around 11,000 people). I find that unlikely, so I often think students who are sending out that many applications haven’t done their research.”
Narrowing down the choices
- • Location
- • Weather
- • Rankings
- • Proximity to home
- • Cost
- • Campus culture
- • Majors offered
- • Local internship and job offerings
If you seriously consider those factors, choosing fewer than 10 colleges to apply to should be much simpler.
“When you’re talking about what schools fit and what’s a good match, you really have to know yourself,” Grove said.
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