The answer to this question is entirely dependent on how early you begin your college search. If you're scrambling in the Fall as a Senior who has not been on ANY college visits, has not investigated or researched ANY colleges, then it's going to be a lot. Why? Because at that point of panic, you'll be throwing darts blindly to see where they land and go from there. Although that approach works for some people, it's not the method College Driven supports, practices, or condones. A calculated approach will save you time, money, and your nerves.
It's worth saying this again: the moment you become a high school student is the moment you become a college applicant. Over those three years leading up to Seniorhood, there's some prep work that should be done to make the end game as calm and simple as possible. The more colleges you visit, your ideal college will begin to emerge. If you have no idea where to begin, this blog post will help get you started. The search ramps up each year that passes, so look to each year as narrowing down your choices.
By test-driving your potential colleges, you'll not only make the college application process more manageable, but you'll also feel more confident that your choices are on solid ground because of the research you did. College application fees can run between $60 to $85 per highly selective college. That's a lot of money when you consider most students apply to 10 colleges on average. WOW!
So, what's the ideal number of colleges? Well, this number assumes a lot. It assumes you did your homework, you started early, you made your college visits, you're being realistic with matching your performance to the college, etc. For College Driven, the magic number is...
Yes, seven! On your list, you should have 2-Reach schools, 2-Probable/Safety schools, and 3-50/50 schools. There are a great number of factors that go into getting accepted into a college, but in general, a Reach school has your chances coming in between 0% - 45%. A Probable/Safety school shows your chances to be at 88% or above. And, although a huge range, the 50/50 school category is 45% - 87%. Although nothing is guaranteed when it comes to college admissions, a "Probable" school is one where your stats (test scores, GPA) are above the average of the college's incoming students the year previous to your entrance. A Reach school, obviously, are schools where the likelihood of your acceptance is, well, a reach. Those top-ranked schools are Reach schools NO MATTER who you are, so accept that even if you got a perfect ACT score! This is the GO FOR IT category. This is not the category where you play it safe. I always tell my clients, if there isn't at least one rejection letter from the colleges we agreed to apply to, then College Driven didn't do its job. I encourage my students to reach to their highest potential. You've got to go for it. College admissions is an unpredictable game. Play it to the fullest! The 50/50 schools are a bit of a toss-up. You might get in, you might not. It's not like you're not qualified to earn acceptance, you are. But, a college's institutional interests may get in the way. You may have gotten in a year ago, but this year they were looking for something different so it's a "no". That's the 50/50 part of it.
Every Rule Has an Exception
There is an exception to College Driven's Rule of 7: the Student-Athlete. When the student-athlete reaches out to coaches, the coach loves to discover that their potential player already has an application on file with admissions. This, as you can imagine, helps out tremendously. This is especially true for D3 teams where athletic scholarships are not awarded. In this case, be very strategic. More than likely, the student-athlete will exceed the Common Application's limit of 20 applications max. To apply to more schools that could be potential contenders to play your sport, decide which schools have their own college application, make an account, and use that route instead of the Common Application to get in all the schools you need for athlete consideration.
Good luck to all the Seniors still developing your list of schools. Seven is heaven!