That is the question. I hear it from students and parents each year.
And my answer—it depends.
Many times students start out open-minded and add schools to their list to check out. Maybe mom or dad graduated from one of them or it’s a state flagship school or you’re a fan of the football team. But the reality is there is no magic number of schools to apply to because it is different for everyone.
It’s completely normal to wonder if you are applying to schools that are the ‘right fit.’ And, for sure, every student has a few hopeful ‘reach schools.’ But where do you start?
Begin by thinking of what you want to study and in what type of setting (city vs. rural, big vs. small, etc.). Pick some schools that match these criteria and then look at the academic profiles of each school. Ideally, you meet the middle 50% of most of the categories listed such as GPA, test scores, and class rank. If not, broaden your search. Be certain to include schools that you are interested in and you meet all of the criteria. Then move on to a few schools that you would love to get in to but realize it is a stretch; it doesn’t hurt to try.
In the end, be honest with yourself. Be realistic—and just as importantly, know yourself. What type of academic student are you? What type of environment appeals to you outside of the classroom?
When in doubt, try to not overextend yourself. I did and I admit it. I applied to some 15 colleges and universities many years ago. I didn’t know what I was doing. I kept thinking that if I applied to a lot of schools, I would end up with many choices. It really doesn’t work like that. Only in hindsight (and with the use of today’s technology) do I wish I had just taken a few weeks to really do some research ahead of time to see which schools really matched my abilities and interests.
Happy researching—and good luck!