11 months ago
Admissions Advice

How many colleges should a student apply to?

I am going into my senior year and am looking to apply, how many colleges should I apply to, and what kinds of colleges? Like safety, reach, etc.

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Accepted Answer
11 months ago

There is no real answer that works for everyone. Here are some different profiles of students so think which one you belong to and make your own adjustments from there.

Student A - Average student who doesn't want to spend a lot of money or go into debt.

Apply to as many local and state public colleges as you feel comfortable. Being in-state vs out-of-state will save you a lot of money. (5 colleges might be fine)

Student B - Average student but an upper middle class or higher. Apply to both state schools and also some private colleges that you can afford. So if you live on the West Coast you might apply to UofOregon but also the University of Portland or University of Puget Sound or Willamette University. (5-10 colleges should be fine)

Student C - Very Good Student with solid grades, course rigor, ECs, recommendations, and awards. Apply to your state colleges for a safety or target school and then apply to some more competitive private schools both in-state and out-of-state for your targets and reaches. Run a net price calculator on your college list so you don't waste time applying to schools that will break your family's budget or are too difficult to get into statistically. So if you are a student with 85-90 GPA of 3.5-3.7, I wouldn't recommend applying to T20 or even T50 schools. (Perhaps 10-12 schools should be good)

Student D - Excellent student in the top 10% of their class with a solid A GPA and high test scores for APs and IBs and excellent ECs. Perhaps applying test-optional because their SAT or ACT didn't go well but everything else looks good. For this type of student, apply to 1 or 2 safeties, maybe 5 or 6 targets, and be very strategic about your reach schools. Without a test score, you can't apply to MIT or Georgetown or even some Ivys and Elites because they prefer those who submit test scores. Maybe consider some top liberal arts colleges. For example, don't apply to all 8 Ivys thinking that you have a good shot statistically because 1 of them will work out. If you are not exceptional, none of them will work out. (15-20 schools. Lesser amount if you are not simply shot-gunning schools).

Student E- Cream of the crop top 5% of the class with 99% SAT or ACT percentile test scores, IB diploma with a 38/42+ score or 10 APs with AP Scholar of distinction, lots of awards and honors, 1/2 Tier 1 and 1/2 Tier 2 ECs, glowing recommendation, amazing community service and volunteerism, Varsity sports and other talents. I would apply REA or ED to your top schools and if you get in, you're done unless you want to have more choices. Someone who gets into Yale, Harvard, Stanford, or Princeton REA, really doesn't have to apply to 15 more schools just to flex. I find that offensive. If you don't get in anywhere good early, then you might have to apply to 15 to 20 more schools to get in somewhere that you will feel is where you belong.

Too many students waste their time and effort thinking that college admissions are like winning the lottery and that if they buy 50 lottery tickets, they are going to win something incredible. But college admissions is like the opposite of buying a lottery ticket. Someone with holes or gaps in learning shot-gunning all T50 schools is probably going to be disappointed. Whereas the very best students will get into more than 50% of the schools on their list. This is why YouTube reaction videos are deceptive. Only the best students make these videos because 90-95% of applicants do not get into T20 schools. Lucky students who feel they struck gold do not make these videos because it's highly unusual to strike gold unless the college made an exception for you because you are an ALDC or have multiple hooks based on race, income, and come from a first gen background.

Good luck.

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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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