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When applying to colleges, how many is too many?

When applying to colleges, it can be hard to know how many to apply to. Apply to only one or two and you run the risk of not getting into either college. Apply to 20 and you will be spending more time filling out applications than you do on your actual homework. Besides, what if you get into all 20 schools?! That would be a lot to pick from.

When I was applied to college, back in 2015, I ended up submitting 16 applications! I’ll be honest, it was overwhelming keeping all my essays straight and remembering which supplements were for which schools. Even after I had pressed submit on my very last application, the process continued to be consuming and stressful as I began having to sift through the acceptance letters and financial aid packages.

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After having been through the process, here are my tips on how to put together the list of colleges you want to apply to.

1) Think about what size school you wish to attend

Do you want a small school where you will know everyone? Do you want a large school where you can get lost in the crowd? Or do you want a mid sized school where you can do a little of both? Do you mind the long walk to class at the large school? Do you feel like there is enough to explore at the small school?

One of the best ways to figure this out is to visit a school of each size range and spend some time on campus. 

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2) Think about how far away from home you willing to travel for school

Do you want to be able to go home on the weekends? Can you afford the travel cost to your school of choice?

I originally wanted to go to school in California. I didn’t mind being far away so long as I could come home over major school breaks. However, my family realized that even with great financial aid packages, that the cost of travel from MA to CA would be a financial burden. If I attended college in CA, I would not be able to come home for winter break.

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3) Look at each school’s financial aid calculator online

If you need financial assistance to pay for college, then this tool can help to see how much aid you can expect to recieve from the school. This can help you figure out if you can realistically afford to attend the schools you are applying to. Here is a link to Harvard’s net price calculator

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4) Check what subjects are available to study at each school

Harvard is unique because even if we doesn’t offer the concentration (major) you are looking for, you can create your own special concentration. However, not every school is as flexible. Additionaly, if you don’t currently know what you want to study, that’s a-okay! While some schools require you to apply to a major or specific disaplibe when you apply to the school, not all schools do. For example, Harvard students don’t declare their concentration until after the third semester on campus. This means you have plenty of time to explore your interests before picking a concentration. 

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5) Think about what type of town do you want to attend college in

A small suburban town? A large city? Something in between?

I was surprised by how isolated some of the schools I visited felt. I realized that I didn’t want to go to a school that wasn’t close to a large town or major city. Being in Cambridge is great because it’s not as overwhelming as being in a large city (like NYC) however I can easily access Boston. I also appreciate how close we are to other universities because it’s fun to interact with students from other schools.


http://gph.is/1KOb4ru - The above video of Harvard/Cambridge is via GIPHY

6) Do an overnight visit at a college or two 

It’s a great way to get a sense of the campus, the students, the classes, the food, etc. Even if you end up not liked the school you spend the night at, it will help you identify what type of environment you like/dislike. 

Here is a blurry collage of pictures from my overnight visit to Oberlin College
Above: Here is a blurry collage of pictures from my overnight visit to Oberlin College.

7) Pick a safety school (or two), a mid range school (or two), and do apply to your reach schools as well.

Its a good idea to apply to schools with a range of aceptance rates so that you are liekly to be accepted somewhere. However, try to make sure that you could see youself attending each of the schools you apply to. Additionally, many students don’t apply to their reach schools because they don’t think they will be admitted. However, if you love the school and think that you could do well there, then don’t hesitate to apply. I never thought I could get into Harvard. But I applied on a whim because my mom and school guidance counselor encouraged me to take a chance.

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I am so glad I listened to them! If I hadn’t taken the leap of faith and applied, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

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About the author

Hi, my name is Rhea Bennett (pronounced Ray-ah) and I’m a rising sophomore here at Harvard College. While I have yet to declare my concentration, I am interested in studying Integrative Biology and... View full profile

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