How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

How many schools should I apply to?

While there is no right or wrong number, I recommend students apply to 6-10 schools. Fewer than six and you probably don’t have enough variety. You need one academic and one financial backup school just in case. The rest of your choices should provide o an array of choices. If you are applying to highly-selective colleges, you may want more schools on your list due to the competitive nature of these schools where each year top students are rejected. I’ve worked with a few students who applied to 12-15 schools and with all the applications, essays, and supplements they were exhausted. If you apply to more than 10 have a clear justification and be ready to work.

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!

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!

Lloyd Paradiso
President and CEO The Admissions Authority

It depends.

Once upon a time, seniors applied to maybe two or three schools and that seemed like a pretty sensible number given that each application was different usually requiring a fair amount of time, attention and energy to complete in a satisfactory fashion. With the traditional college-going population of the day and the fact that most institutions, even those considered most prestigious, routinely admitted the majority of their applicants, there was every reason to believe everyone would be accepted to at least one. Nowadays, with the advent of common applications and the ease of electronic submission, to send out nine or ten applications is not terribly unusual. What is key, however, is to understand one's academic credentials compared to a college's admissions standards so that a few acceptances are more or less assured. Therefore, how many is really not the question but which ones. You can only attend one at a time so I would suggest that as long as you are absolutely certain that you are admissible to at least one college on your list, the rest is up to you. Of course, if financial aid is a crucial component of where you might matriculate, be sure to apply and be admitted to several colleges so that you can compare awards.

Lin Johnson III

Huh, you mean I shouldn't apply to all of them!

When students and parents ask this question, it usually indicates that they are attempting to play the number game: if I apply to more college, then I will increase my chance of being accepted to at least one college. However, this line of thinking should be referred to as the "diversification trap". First, the more colleges you have to research, write essays, complete essays, and prep for interviews, the less time you have to do each well, which actually decreases your chance of being accepted. Second, more importantly, this is simply the wrong number game. The real number game in the admission process is applying early decision or early action to college. Let me elaborate on the second point. If you want to improve the possibility of being accepted to college, your chance increases exponentially when you apply early decision or early action. To do so, you must be so committed to your first choice that you would gladly reject the others if accepted. This is not the case for non-restrictive early action, which allows more flexibility. Hence, here is a basic admission strategy: Apply to 1 college for early decision/restrictive early action round; Apply to 1-2 college(s) for non-restrictive early action rounds; and Apply to 3-4 colleges for regular admission round. If your early decision application gets accepted, excellent! You are done! If your early decision application is unsuccessful, but one of your non-restrictive early action application is accepted, you can stop or you can apply to more schools in the regular admission round. Last, if the early admission rounds do not fare well for you, you can conquer the regular admission round. In my opinion, about 4-7 college applications should be sufficient without overwhelming yourself.