How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Peter Van Buskirk
President The Admission Game

How Many Applications Will it Take?

With the proliferation of marketing strategies (by colleges) to generate more applications, it is tempting (and easy) to send out dozens of applications.It is best, however, that you stay focused. If you can keep your app total at or below eight, you will find that you are more apt to target schools that represent the best fits for you. Moreover, you will be able to manage the process of preparing the applications more efficiently. The more applications you put into play, the greater the pressure to complete the requirements of each. Even with the Common Application, you’ll find that completing the supplemental forms (and essays) can be time consuming and fatiguing. The latter is worth noting because you want to make sure each application reflects your best effort. Your submissions should never have the warmed up, “good enough” look.

Patricia Tamborello
College Counselor Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

More is Not Merrier

Some students panic and think it is necessary to apply to a dozen schools. I think it is better to carefully choose five or six colleges that you have researched very well and feel comfortable about your chances of admission to most of them. While an application is not a commitment to attend, it also isn't something to take lightly. Before you make the decision to apply make sure you would be very happy at that college if admitted.

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.

Alan Sheptin
Owner Sheptin Tutoring Group, LLC

Alan Sheptin, Sheptin Tutoring Group, LLC

While there is no "hard and fast" rule, I usually suggest that students apply to between six and ten schools. If financial aid is an issue, I always recommend applying to one or two in-state colleges. For the other schools, I tell students to put together a long list of schools (20 or so), and then research them with respect to the following: 1. Have I visited? If so, can I see myself attending the school? 2. Does the school offer at least three academic areas in which I could be interested? 3. If I need financial aid, is the school need blind, or need aware? 4. Based on my academic "stats" (standardized test scores, weighted GPA), how would I look to the school? Namely, is the school a reach, reality, or likely admit school? 5. Does the school feel right to me? Size, student body, location, distance from home. After going through that analysis, the student should be able to cut 1/4 of the schools. Then, cut six or seven more, based on parental viewpoints, guidance counselor reactions, and gut feelings. Good Luck, Alan Sheptin

Evelyn M.A.
President Magellan College Counseling

Fit is more important than quantity.

Instead of thinking about the number of colleges on your list, think more about whether or not each college is a good fit for you. Don't apply to any colleges you haven't researched and can answer yes to all of these questions: + Does this college have the major I think I want to pursue? + Is this college in a part of the country in which I would like to live for four or more years? + Does this college have at least some of the extra-curricular activities I would like to continue to pursue as I further my academic career? + Have I read blogs by or communicated in some way with students at this college, so that I have a good feel for the kind of students who attend this college, and I'm comfortable that I will fit in? + Do I have an understanding of what kind of learning is emphasized at this college (ie project-based, individual learning, Socratic/discussion-based learning)? + Have I determined if this school is a safety, match or reach school for me? + If this college is the ONLY college to which I am accepted, will I be happy to enroll there? You could end up applying to 6 colleges (I did), or 15 colleges. You should have a balance of a few reach schools (your scores are within the range of their admitted pool for last year, but not at the top), a few match schools (your scores are at or near the top of their admitted range), and a few safety schools (very likely you will be admitted). You should WANT to go to any of the schools on your list, and most important, you should believe, based on your investigation and research, that you will fit in and succeed at each college on your list.

Cynthia Ferguson
Independent Educational Consultant In2College

Applying to the right colleges is as important as how many to apply to!

It depends on your resources, but I usually recommend between 5-10 colleges if you have planned well and are applying to the "right fit" colleges for you!

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

Number of Applications

I advise my clients to apply to between 6 and 10 colleges. Although it is very tempting to apply to more schools than that, hoping to increase chances for admission, other factors should be taken into account. There are application fees involved with applying to most institutions and this can end up being an expensive proposition. But more importantly, students need to be able to focus their attention on creating their best possible applications, especially focusing on their essays or personal statements, and if too many schools are being applied to, this can be an overwhelming task. Students would be well advised to do their research carefully ahead of time, so that they can narrow down their application choices to a manageable number.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Building a strategic list of schools.

There is no magic number of schools that a student should consider applying to. The first step in choosing your list of schools is to determine what elements a school needs to have to make it a good academic, social and financial fit for you. Once you determine these elements of fit it is time to build a list of schools. I like to counsel students on to have a range of schools that match a student's chances of admission by categorizing schools into three categories; most likely, likely and least likely. A balanced list is the way to best determine how many schools a student will apply to. A balanced list is reasonable when the list contains no more than 13 schools. If a school list is top heavy with a number of least likely schools I will counsel a student to choose more wisely. The student is either picking schools with very low acceptance rates or has not spent enough time identifying aspects of fit.

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.