How Many Colleges Should I Apply to as an International Student?

by | Dec 19, 2022 | Admissions

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You’d like to start applying to universities and colleges abroad. That’s great! Like many prospective international students, you’re probably wondering “How many colleges should I apply to?”

Well, the general rule of thumb is to send out applications to 4 to 12 schools.

However, the reality is that there isn’t a cut and dry number of schools you should apply to. You can apply to as many schools as you want. Some students only apply to one or two schools before gaining admission, while others opt to apply to more schools to increase their chances of acceptance.

While you want to apply to as many schools as possible, due to limited time and resources, it’s advisable to have a strategy to narrow down your list of schools. Every college you apply to must be carefully considered to make sure it’s a great fit and that you have a high likelihood of acceptance.

Let’s explore everything you need to know to create a great list of schools to apply to as an international student.

Start by Creating a Balanced List of Colleges to Apply To

The first step when selecting schools to apply to abroad is to create a list of schools that you’re interested in. The idea is to have an extensive list that you’ll narrow down as you consider various key factors.

Your list should contain three types of schools:

  • Reach Schools: Highly competitive schools where you have low chances of gaining admission. These are schools with an acceptance rate of 10% or less. Even applicants with excellent grades may be rejected by their reach schools.
  • Target Schools: These are schools where your chances of being admitted are quite solid. If your grades fall between the 50th and 75th percentiles for admitted students, the institution is a target school for you.
  • Safety Schools: As the name suggests, a safety school is where you’re highly confident that you’re unlikely to be turned down. For instance, if your grades exceed the 75th percentile, you can consider the institution to be a safety school.

A great strategy is to narrow your list down to four schools in each category. Alternatively, make sure that 50% of your applications are dedicated to your target schools.

Is It OK to Apply to Just One College Abroad?

Applying to only one school is better than not applying at all. That said, applying to multiple schools increases your chances of being accepted into universities and colleges abroad.

There are cases where applying to only one school might make sense. For instance, you might not have enough money to send multiple applications.

You might also be interested in a certain program offered by a specific school. In such a case, additional applications wouldn’t make sense.

Factors to Consider to Narrow Down Your List of Schools to Apply To

As we’ve noted, there’s no set number of schools that prospective international students must apply to. To determine how many schools to apply to and narrow down your list, consider the following factors:

College Applications are Time-Consuming

Preparing excellent college applications is time-consuming. The application process (including research) for one school can take as much as 30 hours!

Colleges abroad typically require prospective students to submit essays. Writing these essays takes up a significant amount of the time you’ll spend on college applications.

Don’t forget to account for the time you’ll spend researching colleges and gathering all the required application documents.

College Application Fees Can Add Up

Sending applications to universities and colleges abroad doesn’t come cheap. The average cost of applying to universities in the U.S is $44.

If you opt to apply to many schools, the application fees can add up to hundreds of dollars!

And that’s without factoring in other costs associated with college applications. You might also have to spend on standardized tests such as SAT, GRE, or ACT and English proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL.

What Are Your Odds of Acceptance?

Before beginning the application process for any university or college abroad, you must carefully consider your odds of acceptance. You can do this by checking the admission criteria and comparing them to your own academic achievements.

If the average GPA of a student accepted to a certain school is 4.00 and a low acceptance rate, you can almost guarantee a rejection if your GPA is below 3.5.

While your list should have some reach schools, it’s advisable not to waste your time and resources applying to schools where you’re unlikely to be accepted.

Financial Aid Packages

International students are usually charged higher tuition fees than domestic students. Fortunately, most schools also have generous financial aid packages that lighten the financial burden for international students.

Comparing financial aid packages available for international students at each university can help you narrow down your list.

Final Advice for Narrowing Down Your List

There’s no set rule for the number of colleges to apply to abroad. However, you might want to apply to as many as 12 schools to maximize your chances of gaining admission. That said, applying to as few as 5 well-chosen schools is great.

Consider the factors we have outlined above to narrow down your list of schools to apply to abroad. Remember, don’t apply to any schools that you wouldn’t like to attend. Even if a school on your list isn’t your top choice, it should be an institution you’re willing to attend. 

Are you looking for scholarships or student loans to finance your education abroad? Find a scholarship through our extensive scholarship database and compare different loans on the 8B student loan marketplace.

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