How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

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.


At least 5

I advised students to apply to at least 5 colleges. We go over the student's class rank, GPA, high school curriculum (AP/IB/Honors/Dual Credit), resume and ACT/SAT scores. I advise them to apply to 2/3 scores that match their profile and then 2 of their hope (reach) schools. I advise students to then look at what type of financial packages they are offered before they make their decision.

Mitch Clark
Executive Director College Sherpa

Narrow Your List

How a student determines their list of colleges can vary from a very straightforward list of two or three schools to a more complex list of target, reach and safety schools. The concept of target, reach and safety schools requires much time and effort both in researching the schools to find a good fit in each category as well as completing multiple applications. A target school is one where you are in the middle to top of the freshman profile and have a good chance of admission. A reach school is one where you are on the lower side of the profile, but may have a chance of being admitted. If you exceed the freshman profile, that school is a safety and you will almost certainly be admitted. Applying to at least two schools in each of these categories should give students a favorable number of acceptances and financial aid awards to choose from in the spring.

Melissa Gollihar

How many schools should a student apply to?

Students should have at least one "dream" school that they apply to, even if the student is not sure that they meet all the school's requirements. A student should also apply to at least a couple of additional schools that they are pretty confident they meet the basic entry requirements. It is important to have some back up options!

Archana Sudame

How many schools should I apply to?

I would say 2-Reach, 4 to 6 Target and 2-Safety. Always have a balanced list. 8 to 12 total. Some of these could be public and others could be private.

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!

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

The number of colleges you should apply to

I recommend that a student apply to 6-8 colleges they have researched and feel would be a good fit. The numbers of applications being submitted by many students is ridiculous; they are known as "stealth applications". These are applications to colleges that have not been researched or "vetted" by the student, they are just applying in case they don't get in anywhere else. Please don't do this! Research your colleges, visit your colleges in person or online, contact the admissions rep's at the colleges to introduce yourself and perhaps set up an interview. Don't be a stealth applicant. If you truly do your homework and know the colleges you are applying to, there is no reason to apply to more than 10 at the very most.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

How many schools should I apply to?

Most students should apply to 6-9 schools.

Anne Richardson
Director of College Counseling, International & ESL Programs Kents Hill School

How many schools should I apply to?

The number is not as important as the range of schools. It is always important to apply to a range of schools - some reaches on down to some likely schools. A range is especially important if finances are going to figure into your choice of schools. Again, apply to a range of schools, remembering that some of the more expensive private schools have much better aid packages than state and public schools. Above all, each school on your list should be a school that you have researched; each school on your list should be a school where you can see yourself happily studying and living next fall.

Dale Ford
Counseling Department Chair Singapore American School

It depends...

If you have an absolute first choice school and you don’t require financial aid you should definitely apply Early Decision (ED) if that’s an option for your first choice school. Wait to hear and then apply to more places if you are deferred or denied. Colleges love to be loved (and want to know which students are really planning to attend) so ED improves the odds. If ED is not an option, apply to a couple of colleges likely to admit you, a couple mid range, and a couple reach schools. Just make certain that you will be admitted to at least one place where you would be happy to spend your next four years.