Between school, homework, and your other extracurriculars, high school can fly by in a blur. When your schedule is so full, it can be hard to think about the future. After all your AP Bio class requires immediate attention and there is no way you’re missing the big game this Friday night. But a major part of being a high school student is applying for college.
You’ve spent years in school and devoted yourself to learning in the hopes of getting into the college of your dreams. The application process can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you didn’t have any older siblings to look up to. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available to help you get that college acceptance letter.
If you’re like most high school students, you may be left wondering about how many colleges you should apply to. The truth is there is no one perfect number that will work for everyone.
How to Decide How Many Colleges You’re Going to Apply to
While there is no single answer to the question “How many colleges should I apply to?” there is some standard conventional wisdom. A rule of thumb is to apply to between six and eight colleges. Of these you should pick two to three of each a safety, target, and reach school.
A reach school is one that may be a stretch based on your academic profile, but it also shouldn’t be entirely unrealistic. A target school is one where you stand a relatively good chance of admission.
A safety school is one that you can be fairly confident you’ll be accepted to. This way, you have a good balance of dream schools that you’d be thrilled to attend and schools that you would be happy to attend if some of your other, loftier options don’t work out.
To determine which schools are a reach, target, and safety, take a look at your grades, GPA, and SAT or ACT scores. Then compare them to the average academic profile of recently admitted students. This should give you an idea of how you line up when compared to students currently enrolled at the school.
Most colleges and universities have admissions profiles where the include information like the average GPA, SAT, and/or ACT scores of current classes. You could also take a look at the College Board’s Big Future , where you can create a profile and compare yourself to the academic profile of the schools you are interested in attending. This isn’t a guarantee, but it can give you a good idea of what types of schools you can realistically expect to get into.
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Is More Better?
If you are extremely passionate about attending a highly selective college, you may have to increase the number of applications you send out. The more selective a school is the greater the chance you won’t be accepted, so it could be worth sending out a few extra applications to ensure you get into a school that you’re excited about attending.
Is Less Best?
Bigger isn’t always better. Applying to colleges requires both time and money. While some schools offer fee waivers, you’ll likely have to pay an application fee for each application you want to send in. College application fees can range from $50 to $90 per application . It could be worth setting up an application budget so you know how many schools you can reasonably afford to apply to. It could also help to think of your education as an investment, you’re paying the money now so you can hopefully get into a school that fits your needs and will lead you toward a bright career path.
Each college application will also require your time and attention. You may not realistically have the time to fill out 20 applications. Another reason you may consider applying to fewer colleges is if you have specific needs or are interested in a particular major or field of study that is only offered at a few schools.
Planning Your Applications
With that in mind, take some time to review the schools to which you’re actively interested in applying. Before you even apply to a school you should have a good idea of what types of programs they offer and what their campus life is like.
Now’s the time to think honestly about what you want out of your college experience and craft a list of schools that you think will make you happy. Don’t apply to any schools you wouldn’t realistically want to attend. As you’re comparing schools, rank your choices. This can help you determine if you want to apply early decision or early action to one of your top choices.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the application process, talk to your guidance counselor or another confidante who has experience with college applications. They can help you navigate the ins and outs of the process and may be able to provide some insightful advice.
Planning for the Future
Once those acceptance letters start rolling in you can breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve got the next four years to enjoy all the new experiences ahead of you. If you’ve accepted an offer, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to pay for your education.
SoFi offers private student loans with four different repayment options so you can choose what works best for your current financial situation. To make things even easier, the application process is done entirely online—from securing a competitive rate to adding a co-signer.
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