How many colleges should I apply to?
Since I have been providing college counseling for students in Connecticut a couple of decades, I have a distinct answer that will go against some of the terrible advice that is out there:
Apply to the number of colleges that makes sense for your unique situation.
Occasionally, I’ll hear someone with a pre-2000 mindset: I was told to apply to 2 safety, 2 range and 2 reach colleges. The unpredictability of college admissions alone makes this limited number of colleges likely a bad idea. Not definitely – every one is unique.
Or, “I don’t want to pay for more than X college applications.” I smile and then gently note that the investment of $100-300,000 for college dwarfs the extra couple hundred of dollars that applications cost. Assuming that more applications “make sense for the child’s unique situation”, then I almost feel like saying that I’ll cover the cost!
Or, “our school wants us to apply to X schools.” This drives me crazy. The school comes up with that policy for their pure selfish interests. It might be optimal for your child to apply to 20 colleges. If that’s the case, then that’s the number.
There is no generic answer. The number of colleges can be affected by early action, the likelihood of getting into at least one college that the student really likes, and the competitiveness of the colleges that make the list. Usually, the more competitive the list, the larger the number of colleges to apply to makes sense.
Moreover, the big worry for many parents – even in our affluent Guilford-Madison-Old Saybrook-Old Lyme-East Lyme-Essex Connecticut area – is cost. Colleges keep their merit award system close to the vest. You really won’t know how much of a merit award you will receive so you may as well increase the odds that one college of interest will offer a compelling merit scholarship.
All that matters is what matters for you.