How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Make it personal....

This seems to be an annual question with a response that would be similar to questions from students requesting of faculty about the appropriate length a paper should be. The answer for the later would be the length that allows you to make a sound argument succinctly. You should not go on and on simply to meet a certain length nor should you be so brief that you do not fully develop your argument. Similar logic applies to this question. If you have done your homework about institutions you are considering attending for the next four years, you should be able to identify at least three schools. One you should be able to gain admissions easily and you would be happy attending. Another school might be slightly more difficult to get into and the last may be a reach for you academically but you have a chance to be admitted. Keep in mind that each of these schools should meet your general criteria about size, location, academic reputation, programs that are offered and cost. Aside from this basic litmus test on these topics and the institutions selectivity, the most important question you need to ask yourself in order to answer this question rests solely in your hands as the applicant. This question is: "How many applications can I complete well enough that I will have finished each of them to the best of my ability?" So many students have difficulty narrowing their list of school to which they would apply. As a result, I have these students go to the admissions essay and begin the process of answering that essay. This process requires a good deal of effort and for my students requires them to dig deep into the curriculum of their intended major, the job placement of the schools graduates for this major, the faculty in their major department and their related research. After this review and information gathering step the student must begin to articulate why this school and their career and academic major aspirations are a good match. Typically students will begin to see where some of their final schools begin to match their interests and aspirations better than others and therefore an application priority is established. They also begin to understand that they are better served in spending a good deal of time on the applications for the schools that really are a good match for them on this deeper level than finishing twice as many applications but not doing their best work on any of them. At this moment, most of my students begin to eliminate those falling toward the bottom of the list. The result is a shorter list but great applications and not just good ones. These are also the students who tend to find an acceptance letter from their reach schools rather than a rejection because they allowed themselves the time to fully, succinctly and convincingly complete each section of the admission applications. So my answer to this question is really more questions but for the student because as with many questions like this, the answer lies within you. I am just a guide to help you arrive at the answer that most appropriately matches your individual situation. Remember......How many great applications vs good applications can you complete? How sure do you want to be that you put your best effort into your "reach" school application? Have you completed a thorough review of all of the schools to which you feel you must apply so you can be absolutely sure that this school meets your educational needs and career aspirations? how many school will YOU apply?

Donnamarie Hehn
Director of College Guidance Canterbury School of Florida

More than three and less than three hundred

Seriously, you should apply to a range of schools: some that you meet the minimum requirements, some for which you should meet the mid-range requirements, and some that would be a stretch for you to meet admission requirements. Generally, I would advise between seven and ten applications. No matter what the admission requirements are, all of the schools on your list should be colleges to which you would attend if you were accepted.

Sally Mehaffey

How many schools should I apply to?

There is no magic number of schools to which to apply. Generally speaking 8-10 colleges would be a reasonable number. If a student has done his/her "due diligence" as far as assessing his/her strengths as an applicant, identified schools that best match the his/her interests, needs, personality, financial concerns and admissions profile, then 8-10 schools will most likely suffice. There are always exceptions, such as a potential BFA in Musical Theatre. As this is such an extremely competitive course of study, it would make sense to expand the number of colleges to make certain that every opportunity to be admitted is availed by the student.

Ruth Fraser

Number of Universities to Apply to

Among several factors that are important in selecting the right university are finding ones that will be the "right fit". This means actually reading about the programs the university offers, as well as the degree specialties. Other things like location, size and quality of the teaching (professors versus teaching assistants), co-op offerings and class size should also be considered. Ensuring that your SAT scores are "in the range" for universities you are applying to is also important. Students should have a variety of schools in their basket - some that are reach; some that are a good match and some that are"for sure".

Jamie Reich

How many schools should I apply to?

It has been my experience that applying to 10 schools works best. I like my students to apply to three safety schools, four targets and three reaches.

Natalie Ortiz

How many schools should I apply to?

I would recommend that a student apply to 4-6 schools. It is okay to apply to a "Dream School", but you also want to make sure that you are applying to schools which are a "Good Match". I would also recommend that you apply to a school which you can consider as a "Safe School". By applying to 4-6 schools and considering this format, you are helping to create the best options for yourself.

Counselor Milpitas High School

If I were applying to a four year college or university

I would pick 6 to 10 schools.

Mark Corkery
Head College Counselor International College Admissions Network (I-CAN)

There is no set number...usually between 10-12 in today's competitive college admission process

I usually recommend applying to 3-5 reach schools (reachable, but unpredictable whether you can get in or not) 2-3 midranges (about a 50/50 chance of being admitted, and 1-2 safeties (if you don't get in, there was a problem with your application and time to call that college's admission office to find out what happened. All the colleges on your llst should be considered the best options based on your research, visits, and thorough review of the college's profiles on Unigo. Just because a school has name recognition does not mean it is the best choice for you. Maybe Harvard would be a good choice but UCLA would be a better choice in terms of the types of students who attend, location, etc, etc. The rule of thumb is that just because you have never heard of a school doesn't mean it isn't good, it just means you have never heard of it. When research is done on whether a school warrants an application or not, best to also look at the admissions rates to see where you fall on the history of the grades, scores, and amount of extracurricular activities most students are involved in who do get admitted. In my mind, however, in this admission "game," it is best to reach for the star colleges but also have some contingencies on your list, just in case. I tend to go against what most advisors suggest in terms of the breakdown of reaches, mids, and safeties. My strategy with all students with whom I work is that to high end the list is a good thing; it helps your chances of getting in to more schools that way -- especially if your admittance is unpredictable. And, you only need one to two back up schools because it is a given that if you apply, you will get in. So, worst case scenario, you go to one of the back up schools. But, indeed, this is not a choice where you hold your nose and go into depression! Your research would have shown you that it wouldnt be a bad option. If the final choice college is not optimal, there is always the possibility of applying once again to your top choice schools, gaining admission perhaps for the sophomore or junior year.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

Quality is more important than quantity

The key aspect of creating a college list is not the "magic number" of schools to apply to, but rather that you have a well-balanced list that is appropriate for your academic abilities. I tend to recommend that my students apply to 10 to 12 schools, but this list should comprise mostly schools that would be viewed as "targets" (i.e. the student's test scores and GPA fall within the median for that school). From there, students should have at least 2 or 3 "safety" schools (where their stats are above the mid-range) where they would actually be happy attending, and as many "reach" schools as they want (though 2 to 4 is more than enough.) Ultimately, you want to ensure you have *enough* choices, but not *too* many.

Judy Zodda
Founder and President Zodda College Services

How many schools should I apply to?

You should apply to a range of schools including 3 reaches, 3 -4 targets and 2 safeties. So between 9-10 schools should be more than enough. Some students decide to forego applying to reach schools and that is fine. Just make sure you've done your research on your target and safety schools. Make sure that you have one financial safety!