How Many College Applications Should My Child Send Out?

Once your child has spent time going through all of their colleges of interest they may come back with a large list. Now comes the fun part of whittling down that list to the to the schools your child has a chance of getting into and truly wants to attend. 

Most experts suggest that students only apply to about five to eight colleges. Anything more than that can be counterproductive as it can be expensive, time consuming, and stressful. By narrowing down their list your are also encouraging your child to apply to only schools that are actually a good fit, reducing their likelihood of applying to schools that may be either not affordable or impossible to get into. 

Here are some tips on making that college application list manageable: 

Narrow Down the Choices

If you have made a list you likely have already thought about and looking into college specifics such as location, size and available degrees. These are important but to lower the number of applications you have to send consider these points as well:

  • Variety of programs available
  • Special study abroad, exchange, and travel classes
  • Campus sponsored clubs and activities
  • Housing, dorm, and apartment options
  • Available facilities like tutor center, library, lab, and gym

Ideally students and parents should be able to visit all of the colleges they are seriously considering. The college tour is a great time to get more of a feel for a school as well as ask more pointed questions of the tour guide, professors or college administrators you interact with. 

Sort Your List

Once your child has narrowed their initial list sort the remaining colleges into three categories:

Safeties: These are the schools that it is practically guaranteed your student can get into, and that you can afford. You should also make sure the school offers the programs your student is interested in studying. There should at least be one or two safety schools on the list.

Good Matches: These are schools that would be great matches for your child academically (ideally the student is in the top 30% of applicants), financially (you're comfortable with the net price you may be expected to pay), and socially (the student has had positive experiences when visiting and is looking forward to studying there). 

As long as the school fits your child in these three main areas, you may be able to wiggle a little big on less important criteria like the location, or the size of the campus. However, if those factors are more important to your student take that into consideration. You can use tools on College Factual to create your own custom rankings and weighing each factor by its importance to you. 

The majority of your child's list should be made up of these good-fit schools.

Reaches: These are schools that your child may be especially excited to get into, but may be extremely selective or overpriced. Limit the amount of reach schools on the list to about one to two.  

Consider "reach" schools with caution. Often these schools are chosen for name brand alone which is not a good reason to select a school. If your child does happen to get in, but you absolutely can't afford it, should they still go? You may want to have some tough discussions with your child ahead of time before choosing and applying to any reach schools.

Final Tips

The total amount of schools your child applies to may vary. Your student may decide that there is really only two or three schools they are seriously considering. That may be the right choice for them. Just remember that the fewer schools your child applies to, the more important it is that they are "good fit" schools. You will also have less of an opportunity to compare financial aid offers and negotiate to get a better deal.

You can be a great resource to your child during this time, but remember the responsibility is on them to actually fill out the application. Make sure they visit their guidance counselor if for help and advice during this time as well. You can also reach out to relatives, friends and co-workers for advice and insight as you think about the options, compare lists, and seek advice. 

If your child does their research right, they should receive acceptance letters from most of the schools they applied to. Students who are in the top 30% of applicants to a school are likely to get more financial aid than those students who are near the bottom. 

Make sure your child stays on track by keeping track of important deadlines.

Try not to stress out about the process. Use tools like College Match to help initially discover schools as well as narrow down your options. 

Good luck!