How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Arianne Rivard
Further Studies Advisor NIEC (China)

Cautious Moderation

You don't need to apply to fifty schools. Narrow the schools you are interested in into three categories: reach, good fit, and safety school. Apply to one (or two) reach schools, two or three good-fit, and two safety schools. Make sure that your safety schools are actually safety schools - and that you actually like the schools and beleive you would receive a good education there. Contact the regional admission officers of any schools you are interested in. They can answer specific questions about the schools and help you decide which schools will be a really good fit, and if you have a realistic chance of admission.

Steve Peifer
Director of College Guidance Rift Valley Academy


Ideally, you want to apply to a fairly easy school to get into, a moderate school, and a reach school. You want to make sure you are balanced; applying to 8 reach schools is a recipe for disappoinment and needless rejection. Whether your ideal amount is 3 or 6 or 9, just make sure you have balance in your approach.

Shannon Salmon

You Should Apply to 8 to 12 Schools

Apply to at least 3 reach schools and at least 3 safety schools.

Francine Schwartz
Founder/ President Pathfinder Counseling LLC

How many schools should I apply to?

What I strive to encourage students to do is have a balanced list. The list should consist of Foundation Schools, schools where the student above the middle 50% of accepted applicants in terms of their transcript and test scores. Next there should be Expected Schools, schools where the student falls in the middle of the pack of accepted applicants from last years class. Finally the list should include Dream Schools, schools where the student falls in the lower range of the middle 50% of accepted applicants. While there is no hard and fast rule on numbers of schools I would suggest at least two or three schools in each category. Too many schools and the student will be left having to choose all over again should they get into say 20 schools. Finally today I believe that all students need to have a financial safety school - usually a state school. Francine Schwartz Pathfinder Counseling LLC

Lorraine Serra

It Depends...

So many of the questions related to college planning and applications have this same answer. Why? Because every student's "profile" is unique: your high school stats, your requirements for location, environment (physical and academic), overall cost and areas of interest all help determine the number of colleges to which you'll apply. The trend over the last few years is to apply to approximately 8-10 colleges, although as a college counselor I'd prefer to see you focus on a smaller, carefully targeted group. I've seen students apply to one school and to 19 schools, both extremes, and both slightly dangerous. If you start early (my mantra), you'll allow yourself the opportunity to deeply research many colleges, visit several, and have a good range of possible, target and reach schools on your final list. Knowing a great deal about a college's offerings and communicating this to the admissions committee (also known as demonstrating interest), will help your application stand out in the crowd of many, and give you an edge. You'll also have an easier time deciding come May 1. Do your homework!

Amy Foley

The Goldilocks Rule

Not too many and not too few. Not too many that you're emptying your piggy bank for application fees. Not too few that you have too few choices this spring. There is only one exception to the rule: If you are 100% sure that you will attend your absolutely favorite, #1, dream-of-a-lifetime institution, apply to one... and only one. If admitted, you're done! If, however, you are denied or waitlisted, submit applications for others. Talk about choices with your family. Visit schools that interest you most, and cross some off the list. Then, apply to between 3-10 (or so), including your flagship state, at least one where you rest squarely in the school's profile, and others that resonate with you. Then, enjoy your winter break. Springtime, with its offers of admission and choices to make, will be here soon enough.

Maureen Lawler
College Counselor Bishop Kelley High

There is no perfect number - use common sense

There is not perfect number of colleges to apply to. I have students who apply to only one because that is the school they want to attend and are admissible. I have students who apply to multiple schools because they have an idea and want options. We tell our students to consider two reach schools, two 50/50 schools and two schools they know they will gain admission. This is different for every student. One thing to consider when applying to multiple schools are the application fees. Many colleges charge anywhere from $25 to $75 in application fees and do not waive them no matter what application you use. Keep your numbers reasonable. Do your research first, narrow your choices and then apply.

Alan Sheptin
Owner Sheptin Tutoring Group, LLC

Alan Sheptin, Sheptin Tutoring Group, LLC

While there is no "hard and fast" rule, I usually suggest that students apply to between six and ten schools. If financial aid is an issue, I always recommend applying to one or two in-state colleges. For the other schools, I tell students to put together a long list of schools (20 or so), and then research them with respect to the following: 1. Have I visited? If so, can I see myself attending the school? 2. Does the school offer at least three academic areas in which I could be interested? 3. If I need financial aid, is the school need blind, or need aware? 4. Based on my academic "stats" (standardized test scores, weighted GPA), how would I look to the school? Namely, is the school a reach, reality, or likely admit school? 5. Does the school feel right to me? Size, student body, location, distance from home. After going through that analysis, the student should be able to cut 1/4 of the schools. Then, cut six or seven more, based on parental viewpoints, guidance counselor reactions, and gut feelings. Good Luck, Alan Sheptin

Evelyn M.A.
President Magellan College Counseling

Fit is more important than quantity.

Instead of thinking about the number of colleges on your list, think more about whether or not each college is a good fit for you. Don't apply to any colleges you haven't researched and can answer yes to all of these questions: + Does this college have the major I think I want to pursue? + Is this college in a part of the country in which I would like to live for four or more years? + Does this college have at least some of the extra-curricular activities I would like to continue to pursue as I further my academic career? + Have I read blogs by or communicated in some way with students at this college, so that I have a good feel for the kind of students who attend this college, and I'm comfortable that I will fit in? + Do I have an understanding of what kind of learning is emphasized at this college (ie project-based, individual learning, Socratic/discussion-based learning)? + Have I determined if this school is a safety, match or reach school for me? + If this college is the ONLY college to which I am accepted, will I be happy to enroll there? You could end up applying to 6 colleges (I did), or 15 colleges. You should have a balance of a few reach schools (your scores are within the range of their admitted pool for last year, but not at the top), a few match schools (your scores are at or near the top of their admitted range), and a few safety schools (very likely you will be admitted). You should WANT to go to any of the schools on your list, and most important, you should believe, based on your investigation and research, that you will fit in and succeed at each college on your list.

Cynthia Ferguson
Independent Educational Consultant In2College

Applying to the right colleges is as important as how many to apply to!

It depends on your resources, but I usually recommend between 5-10 colleges if you have planned well and are applying to the "right fit" colleges for you!