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There are many different theories on the number of colleges to which a student should apply. Some recommend applying to at least ten schools, while others suggest applying to at least six. Others say the minimum amount of colleges to which a student should apply is three. Each recommendation comes with its own reasoning.
Those who recommend applying to a high number of colleges argue that competition to get into colleges is higher than in the past. Students should, under this suggestion, apply to one or two “dream schools,” where the chances of acceptance are rare, four to six schools where one has an even chance of getting in, and two fall-back schools, where one is guaranteed acceptance.
With unlimited funds and time, applying to ten schools is certainly fine. For those with limited time and money, applying to this many colleges might be a hardship. First off, application fees for each college range from 50-100 US dollars (USD). This could mean a total of 1000 USD in application fees.
Second, it takes about two to five hours on average to apply to each school, especially when several essays are required, which they usually are. This means one could spend 20-50 hours applying to colleges. This may not be a workable strategy for the overscheduled high school senior who is working on graduating.
The suggestions that students should apply to six colleges may be a little easier for some and employs a 2-2-2 strategy. Under this recommendation, students should apply to two schools that are “dream schools,” two schools where they have at least a 50-50 chance of being accepted, and two fallback colleges. This minimizes both money spent on application fees, with the highest possible amount at 600 USD. Further, it saves time spent on filling out applications for colleges.
For those who are really in a financial bind, the three-application method may work best. This means applying to one “dream school” one college where you have a good chance of getting in and one fallback school. Some also apply to a local community college in case none of these three options works.
Also bear in mind, if you have financial difficulties but really want to apply to a school with a high application fee, many schools have fee waivers for those in challenging circumstances, and some high schools may have programs to help pay for applications. You should always be sure to apply to at least one or two colleges that you can certainly attend, and you might want to look for colleges with less popularity, since these often attract students by offering better scholarships.
Some state schools also offer students with good grades guaranteed acceptance before they apply. You do still have to apply to these schools and get formal acceptance. These schools can become your fallbacks should other colleges not have room for you.
The article stated that "some state schools offer students with good grades guaranteed acceptance before they apply". Even though these may be good fall back schools, this does not necessarily mean that they are lower quality schools. For example Arizona State University offers this type of guaranteed acceptance, but it only applies to general studies admissions and some programs. For certain programs like engineering, the admissions process is far more selective. This allows ASU to accept a large profile of students, but also maintain its status as a top tier school and research institution. Many of ASU's programs are ranked in the top 50 in the country. Schools like this can be a good fit for students whose grades are not that strong, but really want to enter a top program. If a student can get good grades in his or her first year, then s/he can apply to transfer into one of the more rigorous programs.
My philosophy was to apply to six schools; splitting between public and private schools. I made sure to choose one school that was in-state so I could take advantage of decreased tuition should funding be an issue. I applied to a few state schools that had good scholarship and grant programs, and I applied to a few schools that I considered upper echelon (not Ivy League, but more selective). I was only able to visit one school before I applied, so I tried to choose a variety of campus types. I choose a mix of urban, suburban, and rural schools with both large and small class bodies (sadly after all of this selectiveness, I was unable to visit the school I chose before I attended...big mistake). I felt that this would be a good mix of cost, diversity of schools, and diversity of learning environments.
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