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How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

June 09, 2021 · 4 minute read

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How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

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 for many high school students, applying to college is a major part of the journey.

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 for students without any older siblings (or cousins, or friends) 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

Like many things in life, there isn’t a specific number of colleges that every student should apply to. However, there is some standard conventional wisdom.

One rule of thumb is to apply to between five and eight colleges. Of these students generally pick two to three of each a safety, target, and reach school.

A reach school is one where acceptance may be a stretch based on the student’s academic profile, but it also shouldn’t be entirely unrealistic. A target school is one where the student stands a relatively good chance of admission.

A safety school is one that students can be fairly confident that they’ll be accepted to. This way, students can create a balance of dream schools that they’d be thrilled to attend and schools that would be a good fit if some of the other, loftier options don’t work out.

Determining Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

To determine which schools are a reach, target, and safety, evaluate 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 they include information like the average GPA, SAT, and/or ACT scores of current classes. Another option is to take a look at the College Board’s Big Future™ , where students can create a profile and compare themselves to the academic profile of the schools they are interested in attending. This isn’t a guarantee, but it can give students a good idea of what types of schools you can realistically expect to get into.

Is More Better?

Students who are extremely passionate about attending a highly selective college, may have to increase the number of applications they submit. The more selective a school is the greater the chance a student won’t be accepted, so it could be worth sending out a few extra applications to be sure the student is admitted into a school that they are excited about attending.

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Is Less Best?

Applying to colleges requires both time and money. While some students may qualify for fee waivers, students can expect to pay an application fee for each application. College application fees can range from $50 to $90 per application , in some cases even higher. It could be worth setting up an application budget so students have an idea of how many schools they can reasonably afford to apply to.

Each college application will also require your time and attention. Students may not realistically have the time to fill out 20 applications. Another reason some students may consider applying to fewer colleges is if they 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, students should take some time to review the schools to which they are actively interested in applying. Before applying to a school try to get a good sense of the types of programs offered and what life on campus may be like.

Students can take this time to think honestly about what they want out of their college experience and craft a list of schools that could fit the bill. Avoid applying to any schools they wouldn’t realistically want to attend. As they compare schools, rank the choices. This could help determine when a student may want to apply early decision or early action to a top school.

Both early action and early decision are application routes that allow students to indicate that a specific school is their top choice. If a student applies early decision, they are committing to attending that school should they be admitted. Early action usually allows students to receive a decision earlier than traditional applications, but admission is not binding.

Note that some schools may only offer either early action or early decision, or may not offer either.

Related: Ultimate College Checklist

The college applications process can be a lot to handle. Students who are feeling overwhelmed by the scope of it all can talk to their guidance counselor or another confidante who has experience with college applications. They could help students 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, students can breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve got the next four years to enjoy all the new experiences ahead of them. It’s never too early to start thinking about how to pay for college.

One of the first steps is to apply for federal aid, which can be done by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly referred to as FAFSA®. Federal aid includes federal student loans, work-study, and some scholarships or grants.

Some students may find that federal aid, scholarships, and other savings aren’t enough to pay for school. In that case, some students may consider borrowing private student loans. SoFi offers private student loans with four different repayment options so students can choose what works best for their current financial situation. To make things even easier, the application process is done entirely online.

The Takeaway

The college application process will look slightly different for everyone. In general, students apply to between five and eight schools. These are usually a mix of reach, safety, and target schools. Students can compare their personal academic profile to the average accepted student at their desired school to determine whether a school is a reach, safety, or target.

Learn more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options today.


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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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