How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

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.

Kiersten Murphy
Executive Director and Founder Murphy College Consultants LLC

Keep it reasonable

I encourage students to apply to at least eight colleges, which should include a few 'reach for the stars' types as well as colleges where you are in the statistical average range. If a student tells me that they want to apply to more than 12 colleges, I feel as if they haven't done their homework and haven't really made enough of a connection to decide which are best fits.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Balance Above Quantity

Students should apply to a balanced list of between 6-10 schools. Every student should apply to at least two foundation schools (strong likelihood of earning admission). Also, students should stretch themselves by applying to at least one realistic reach school (admission is possible, but not probable). Middle schools (chance of admission is about 50/50) help mitigate unexpected admission trends in either the reach or foundation categories. When a list is perfectly balanced, applying to just 3-4 schools is reasonable. Applying to more than 10-12 schools is a sign that the college search part of the admission process isn't over. Narrowing schools after receipt of admission offers is becoming more common as financial concerns influence final enrollment decisions.

Stephanie Wassink

The answer is strategy specific

Many students choose to apply to 3 or 4 schools in their safety, target and reach categories. The safety, target and reach designations are largely based on a student’s GPA and standardized testing scores as compared to each of the prospective colleges to which he/she is applying. If a student has decided to apply primarily to reach schools, (s)he may decide to apply to 5 or even more schools in the reach category. Because the student’s chance of admittance to reach schools is lower, many students try to raise the odds by applying to more reaches.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

That depends on how well-rounded your list is.

You need to look closely at your profile (types of classes, grades, testing, activities, etc.) and if your profile is a fairly even match for at least 2 colleges on your list, and is much stronger than at least two colleges on your list, you should be set. Then you can apply to as many other colleges as you want. Remember, it is always important to always view each college on your list as a place you would be happy to attend. Do not apply thinking you will never go because that defeats the purpose of having them on your list in the first place. If you are open mined and do your research well you will find 6-10 colleges that will match you well (a good counselor can help with this).

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

Two or Two Dozen?

When embarking on your college search process it's important to remember that applying to more schools does not necessarily increase your likelihood of admission or options. What students SHOULD do is take the time to narrow down their initial "long list" to a list of schools that are the best fit and THEN apply to those. I generally recommend that students apply to 5-7 schools. This isn't to say that occasionally one of my students applies to 10-12...however, they often realize that the amount of extra work writing essays and completing supplements could have been avoided if they had taken more time to narrow their options to a more manageable list.

Dori Middlebrook
Owner Dori Middlebrook Educational Consulting

How many schools should I apply to?

I usually recommend 8-10 schools. When creating a school list a student should have a balance of schools in three different categories. "Likely" schools-schools where the student's grades and test scores are above the averages for admitted students at that school last year. A student is "likely" to be accepted to these schools and often will receive merit aid if they choose to attend. I recommend 2-3 "likely" schools. "Target" schools-this category should have the highest number of schools in it. Target schools are schools where a student's grades and test scores are right in the middle of admitted students. A student has a 50/50 chance of being admitted to a target school. A student schould apply to 4-6 target schools. "Reach" schools-schools where a student's grades and test scores fall below the average number for admitted students. Acceptance to these schools is a reach and a student is less likely to be admitted. I tell students "you never know unless you try" but know that it will be highly competitive. I recommend 2 reach schools. Students should spend time researching schools and they should like their "likely" schools as much as they do their "reach" schools, they may end up with offers of admission from any of the schools. Remember the most important thing is selecting schools that are a good "fit"-consider size of school, location, majors, activities, housing, finances and much more to find the right school for you.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

The Magic Number of College Applications

There is no such thing as a magic number when it comes to applying to schools. It is important to make sure that you are being realistic with your list. Offers of admission should not be viewed as badges of honor/collector worthy. Unfortunately, the Common Application has made it all too easy to hit submit, driving up the number of apps each school must process. If you haven't put all of your eggs in one basket, if you've done your research and figured out good fit schools, 6-8 apps should be sufficient. If you're having trouble eliminating options before you're accepted, I don't think it will be any easier later. Save the application fees for future college costs and focus on putting together the strongest application you can.

Nicole Oringer
Partner Ivy Educational Services

generally between 7 and 10

It's best if you can naorrow down your choices so that you can really focus on each individual application and get to know each college that you are conidering. It can be very overwhelming to apply to too many colleges. Find a couple of ballpark, reach and safer choices and get to know these colleges!

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder

It's quality, not quantity.

Everyone's college list will differ in number. It depends on how competitive your list is. I have the following categories-reaching for stars (all Ivies and then colleges at and above your record), stretch (still challenging), 50-50, and likely. If you have many reaching for the stars colleges, then your list will be longer because you need to balance it out. If you are someone with a mixed record (with one weaker area), you need a larger list as well. Other kids just have a few schools because their academic interests are so focused, they know where to go. Having a long list also means much more work with applications but the work now is worth having great choices. later.