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.

Alex Restrepo

Giving Yourself the Right Options

Whether you're totally determined to go into the math of sciences or not at all sure what you'd be interested in majoring in, it is important to give yourself a range of different types of schools when you're applying to. Normally as a rule, I'd say apply to no more than 10. Within those have a mix of colleges and universities from around the country and of different types. By types I mean, large state universities in cities to small liberal arts colleges in rural environments. If you are not sure what you want to do, apply to more liberal arts colleges, as you often don't have to declare your major until later on. Even if you are dead set on becoming an engineer or a doctor, still apply to small liberal arts colleges because many have several research opportunities available to students much earlier on than larger universities (since you're not competing with graduate students for those spots)

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

There is no right number--except for what is right for you

There is no definitive right number of schools to which a student should apply. For some it is love at first sight, followed by an early decision application, acceptance, and ultimately attendance. For others there may be great indecision or financial factors may preclude an early decision application and they must wait until they know all their options. What is important is to give yourself a range of options and that you view the application process realistically. The difference in selectivity is wide ranging and you need to be sure that you have a “safety school”—a place that given your record will admit you, but one that still satisfies your criteria as to program, geography, cost, college experience, size, whatever it is that is driving your individual decision making. Don’t sell yourself short, but be honest about where you fit in oftentimes competitive process.

Jacqueline Murphy
Director of Admissions Saint Michael's College

Be reasonable

Applying to colleges is time consuming and can be costly. Do your research beforehand and apply only to those schools that seem reasonable in terms of your chances for admission and are good matches for you in terms of academics, campus life and location. Of course the big question is final cost...which can be difficult to determine in the beginning, but be sure to use the net price calculators to get a sense of what you may qualify for in terms of aid. I have seen students apply to as many as 20 schools and others a few as one. The correct answer is certainly somewhere in between. Eight to ten seem reasonable. Remember-you can only attend one