This time of year one of the regular questions I answer is “how many colleges should I apply to?” There is no one right answer to that question as it depends on the individual student’s needs. But here are some things to consider as you decide what is the right number for you to apply to.
Your first consideration is to find colleges that meet your needs. If you have found a particular college has what you are looking for and you are confident that you will be accepted, one application might be all you need.
Most students are able to find a number of colleges in which they have an interest. The concern, however, is how many might you be accepted to. For the typical student they would be wise to consider applying to 6 to 8 colleges. Within this list you would want to have at least 2 schools that you are sure you will be admitted to, 2 to 3 colleges where you have a good chance of acceptance and 2 reach schools. Reach schools are those where your chances of acceptance are not great either because your grades and test scores are on the low side for that college, or because the college accepts so few students that no one is guaranteed admission.
A further consideration that effects the number of colleges you should apply to is whether you will want to compare financial aid awards in the spring to see where you will get the best deal. This requires an understanding of how college financial aid works. Many websites will recommend that you have a financial safety school and will recommend applying to your local state college. I have found that many people follow this advice and end up paying much more for their college education than they might have if they had understood how financial aid differs from college to college. The cheapest college in cost is not necessarily the cheapest college for you.
There are also particular circumstances when applying to more than 8 colleges might be right for a particular student. I work with many students that are applying to BS/MD programs which are extremely competitive. Many of these students apply to 12 or more colleges because of the competitive nature of the programs. However, this is only appropriate if you are able to take the time to make sure each of the applications is as strong as it can be. If you don’t have the time or energy to devote your best effort to each and every application, you should submit fewer applications.
Don’t worry about how many colleges your friends are applying to. Like the whole admissions process, you are an individual and you shouldn’t worry about what the rest of the sheep are doing. Do what is best for you.