How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Lynda McGee
College Counselor Downtown Magnets High School

Apply only to schools you love!

Students tend to focus on the "how many" question when it comes to college applications, when what they really should think about is "Do I love this school? Would I attend if I got in?". Too many students choose "safeties" that they would never attend. A good rule of thumb is to apply to 2 or at the most 3 schools that tend to accept students with stronger credentials than yours, 2 or 3 where you are smack in the middle of their acceptance numbers, and another 2 where you would be considered a top student. You can only attend one school, so that is more than enough applications to suffer through. Just be sure that all your choices are schools where you would be happy.

Mark Montgomery
Founder Montgomery Educational Counseling

You're Going To Attend Only One College, So...

The minimum number of applications is one. Generally students apply to too many: they apply willy-nilly without thinking hard enough from the get-go whether the schools on their list really fit them. Also, students forget basic statistics: your chances at School B do not increase if you are rejected by School A. Applying to more schools does not guarantee success. Applying to two or three that fit you academically and socially is a much better plan than wantonly applying to a bunch you don't really know much about.

Stacey Kostell
Director of Undergraduate Admissions University of Illinois

A solid range is 5 - 7.

It really depends on the student, but 5-7 is a good range. When researching possible schools, you may be interested in many more than that, but by the time it comes to apply you should be able to narrow the list. More than likely, you'll know the group of schools you’re most interested in attending. On the flip side, even if you are dead set on attending your favorite school, it's a good idea to apply to more. There's always the possibility that you won't be offered admission. Then, if you are admitted, you will appreciate having a choice and not being limited. Your second-choice school may offer you a better financial aid package or you'll just change your mind. Bottom line, keep your options open but don't spend a fortune on application fees!

Suzanne Shaffer
Owner Parents Countdown to College Coach

How many schools should I apply to?

Most students apply to between 7 to 10 colleges. Make sure that your applications fall into 3 categories: your reach schools (colleges that might be a reach but POSSIBLE); your match schools (colleges that you would be right in line with the average student accepted); your safety schools (colleges where your qualifications are measurably above the average applicant).

Tony Bankston
Dean of Admissions Illinois Wesleyan University

Too Many Fishing Poles Makes for Bad Fishing

Imagine yourself in a small row boat trying to manage twenty different fishing poles, all of them with lines in the water. Do you think you are more likely to catch fish just because you've got so many poles working at once? The reality is that you are actually more likely to spend most of your time untangling knots and dealing with other problems. The college application process is not much different. Applying to a large number of colleges doesn't increase your odds of getting admitted our securing that rare full-tuition scholarship. But it may very likely cause you to conduct a watered down college search and, in the end, make a bad decision. If you do your research ahead of time and take time to visit different types of college campuses (big, medium, small), you should be able to give yourself plenty of options by applying to five or six colleges. Even with just five or six colleges, you can have one safety school, two moderately selective schools, and three reach schools. You can have a combination of both less expensive public schools and more expensive private schools. With fewer applications "in the water," you are more likely to keep up with the paperwork, meet deadlines, etc. In the end, you will likely only have enough time to fully investigate your top two to three college choices. Better to give those colleges a great look than spend all your time sifting through all the confusion of keeping up with twenty applications.

Yolanda Spiva
Executive Director Project GRAD Atlanta, Inc.

You Should Apply to As Many Schools As You're Interested In!

While college application fee affordability is certainly a consideration, you should apply to as many schools as you have an interest, if you are able to apply to multiple schools. I encourage students to focus on their goals for college admission, as opposed to getting bogged down in the number of schools to which they have applied. If you are interested in programs of diverse types, at ten schools, for example--then apply to ten schools! The only caution I would provide is that should you gain admission to multiple schools which are equal in type, characteristics, and offerings, YOUR decision for which school to enroll in, will become all the more difficult. Further, you are unlikely to be able to visit all of the schools to which you apply, unless they are in an area proximate to one another, and college visitation is of utmost importance to determine the college's visit for your personality and academic goals. In sum, you should apply to schools based on your professional, personal, and academic interests, but don't overdo it to simply brag about the number of schools to which you have applied. When you apply to multiple schools, you are able to entertain the variety of scholarship, academic and other offerings, upon which to base your decision. At the end of the day, you should apply to college to gain admission, not accolades and popularity!

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.

Christina Reynolds
Guidance Counselor

How many applications is enough?

There is no magic number about how many colleges a student should apply to. There are many different factors that may influence how many colleges you apply to, they may include how much research on schools you have done beforehand, if you are applying to a specialized program, how many application fees your parents are willing to pay for and how much work you are willing to put in to complete these applications. The only thing that I do recommend is that you apply to 2-3 schools that are within your range for GPA and test scores that you are likely to get into AND would be happy going to. In the end you want to give yourself options and this will be the best way to ensure that you have them.

Kathryn Lento

It's not all about the number...

More important than the total number, is to have schools in each of the following categories: safety (shocked if you did not get in), likely (50% chance or higher) and reach (It's possible, but not likely). Make sure you have at least one safety school that you really like and will not feel like you are settling. If scholarships are an important factor, you may want to apply to a greater number of schools to increase your chances of getting money.

Aviva Walls

It's not how many that really matters

Rather than simply state a number, it's better to start with two ideas. 1. Apply to colleges across a range of selectivity. Go for your dreams! Apply to those reach schools (at least a few), but also be sure to have colleges which fit your college search criteria, but are less selective and will be more likely to offer you admission. In general, I think students should have 2-3 "reach schools" (schools for which your chances of admission are less than 50%), 3-4 schools which are "good fit" or "target" or "50/50" (the admissions decision could go either way, you are right in the middle of their score and gpa averages) and 2-3 schools that you would feel fairly confident will offer you admission (you have greater than a 50% change of admission). 2. Don't apply to any college you wouldn't want to attend. This is a simple idea, but a crucial concept. Don't waste the money, time and resources applying to colleges you wouldn't be happy going to. Yes, it's important to have a diversity of schools on your college list, but if you don't want to go there, than that doesn't help anyone, does it? In that vein, in this process, it's easy to get caught up in the hype. There are lots of great colleges in this country - some of them are very selective and others offer "admissions bargains." Keep your mind open to the possibilities. Just because a college is likely to offer you a spot doesn't mean they are a bad school or offer poorer quality education. Keep your eyes peeled for those bargains - they are out there!