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Q&A: How Many Schools Should Your Student Apply To?

Q&A: How Many Schools Should Your Student Apply To?

By Sean Brian Dermody

March 06, 2009

Q: How many schools should my junior apply to? Is there really such thing as a “safety” school? What does that mean?

A: Trying to decide how many and which colleges to apply to can be one of the most challenging aspects of the admissions process.

Fortunately, by beginning this process in the junior year, your son or daughter has more time to reflect upon the college experience that he or she wants, and to do the necessary research to find schools that match it. By the time your student is a senior and is ready to fill out applications, he or she should have a number of possible schools from which to choose.

Of those choices, I recommend applying to between three to five schools. By applying to a minimum of three, your student has options in case admission is denied or if he or she has a change of heart later with their front-runner college. I recommend applying to no more than five colleges so that your student has the time needed to complete each application with the utmost care and attention to detail that it needs and deserves.

When suggesting the minimum number of schools to apply to, I always encourage students with whom I speak to both reach for their dream college, but also be realistic about college costs and admission standards. Not everyone who applies to his or her first-choice college is admitted. And if admitted, not everyone can afford the costs. If your child only applies to one school and is denied admission, he or she is in the tough spot of scrambling to find a different college at which to enroll. Rather than being stuck in this position, it’s far better to apply to multiple colleges of varying degrees of selectivity.


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