How Many Colleges Should High School Students Apply to?

Applying to college has become a rite of passage for high school students who want to eventually enter professional careers in industry. During this time, some students decide to send applications to as many colleges and universities as they can. They want to make sure that they have acceptances from a number of good schools.

Even with the use of the common application and occasional opportunities to waive application fees, applying to dozens of schools is often a time consuming and expensive endeavor. According to advice given by high school guidance counselors, students should focus on quality over quantity when it comes to sending out applications to colleges and universities. They claim that it is best for students to conduct careful research and generate lists of six to eight schools for which to apply. This list should include a few of their dream schools, some schools for which they are definitely qualified to attend and a couple of schools that are sure to accept them.

Here are some key considerations for high school students who need to narrow down their list of schools for which to apply.


One of the most important factors that an ambitious high school student considers before applying to and attending a university is the school’s reputation and ranking. Competition in the job market is high as many students pursue and attain undergraduate degrees in a variety of majors. Students who want to gain employment with large, reputable organizations by using academic credentials that they have earned in disciplines like finance, engineering or political science usually try to gain entrance into top tier universities.

Majors and Specializations Offered

Students who know that they want to major in specific areas should do their research to find schools that offer their desired specializations. Once a student knows that a school provides their chosen major, they should assess the academic program’s curriculum to make sure that the classes that they are expected to take align with their career goals and professional aspirations. This is especially important for students who want to continue their education in areas like medicine and law as well as those who want to pursue double majors.


Nearly all students who graduate with undergraduate degrees also acquire large amounts of student loan debt. The stagnant labor market does not ensure that they will acquire gainful employment directly after graduation so today’s high school student must carefully consider whether a school will likely make them a good return on their time and financial investment in higher education. Schools that typically make the list of budget conscious high school students are ones that offer special incentive scholarships and those that offer students discounted, in state tuition rates.


The college experience is not all about academics. Universities are also places where students can network and grow personally, and school location plays a pivotal role in these activities. Some students who enjoy cultural attractions choose to apply to schools in cities that have great performing arts venues. Those students who like to pursue hobbies like organic gardening with like minded peers may apply to schools that are in temperate climate zones like California or Florida. Also some campus locations offer students better access to local internships and job opportunities upon graduation.


It is helpful for high school students to review their proposed list of schools with an unbiased person like a guidance counselor or other knowledgeable mentor. For high school students who are applying to college for the first time, these individuals can usually provide reality checks about student academic qualifications, advice about school admission cycles and even suggestions about financing one’s education.


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