How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Laurie Nash

Number of applications to submit

I recommend that my students apply to approximately ten schools — a few reach schools, a few probable schools and a few safeties (although nothing is really a safety any more).

Jennifer Tabbush

Ideal number of schools to apply to: 9

2 reaches, 2 safety schools, and 5 schools that you have a good chance of getting into. It is always a good idea to research admissions statistics or use Naviance's Scattergram feature (if your high school has it) to see how your grades and test scores compare to the average admit. Apply to schools that you think are a good match for you and that you really think you would go to if admitted.

Wendie Lubic
College Counselor The College Lady

Don't over apply!

I limit the students I work with to 8-12 colleges maximum, with a preference for less than 10. Any more than that and the quality of each individual application goes down. Even if all your schools are on one application system, it still means keeping everything straight and answering school-specific questions. I prefer for student to "fall in love" with a small group of schools and focus their attention on making those applications stand out.

Stephanie Wassink

The answer is strategy specific

Many students choose to apply to 3 or 4 schools in their safety, target and reach categories. The safety, target and reach designations are largely based on a student’s GPA and standardized testing scores as compared to each of the prospective colleges to which he/she is applying. If a student has decided to apply primarily to reach schools, (s)he may decide to apply to 5 or even more schools in the reach category. Because the student’s chance of admittance to reach schools is lower, many students try to raise the odds by applying to more reaches.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

That depends on how well-rounded your list is.

You need to look closely at your profile (types of classes, grades, testing, activities, etc.) and if your profile is a fairly even match for at least 2 colleges on your list, and is much stronger than at least two colleges on your list, you should be set. Then you can apply to as many other colleges as you want. Remember, it is always important to always view each college on your list as a place you would be happy to attend. Do not apply thinking you will never go because that defeats the purpose of having them on your list in the first place. If you are open mined and do your research well you will find 6-10 colleges that will match you well (a good counselor can help with this).

Patricia Aviezer
President Inside Track To College, Inc.

How Many Is Too Many? "Colleges to Apply To, That Is"

Of course, this is an individual decision but remember that applications require work! Students who have done their homework have begun to formalize their list as juniors, starting with 25-30 colleges with similar characteristics. What are the differences between them? They range between colleges that are right on your "stats" (SAT/ACT, GPA and Rank) to colleges 10% below your stats and 15% above your stats. On average the final college list will be between six to eight schools.

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

Two or Two Dozen?

When embarking on your college search process it's important to remember that applying to more schools does not necessarily increase your likelihood of admission or options. What students SHOULD do is take the time to narrow down their initial "long list" to a list of schools that are the best fit and THEN apply to those. I generally recommend that students apply to 5-7 schools. This isn't to say that occasionally one of my students applies to 10-12...however, they often realize that the amount of extra work writing essays and completing supplements could have been avoided if they had taken more time to narrow their options to a more manageable list.

Marcia Kramer

How many schools should I apply to?


Susan Sykes
President SS Advisor

Tell me about your college search.

If you have made a careful self-analysis and have also reviewed colleges that fit the criteria you set for yourself, you may be able to apply to as few as three or four colleges. If you're a person who isn't sure what kind of environment you want or if you believe you can be happy just about anywhere, you probably will apply to more than this. A good guideline is to apply to one or two colleges you recognize are "reach" schools--you have only a15-20% chance of being admitted--and apply to a minimum of three schools where you have a good chance of being admitted. Then select between two and four schools where you have about a 50-50 chance of being admitted. This would result in between six and nine applications. One thing I would not advise is to apply to all the most-selective schools on the theory that you "might" get into one of them. Colleges read applications looking for "fit" and will know you haven't done your homework!

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC


In my offices, among the many knickknacks with which students can fiddle to alleviate the ubiquitous stress of the application process, I have a two-inch tall canister of Kent Velocity Buckshot. Contained in its clear outer coating the size of a lip stick lay at least one hundred tiny metal pellets. When loaded into a gun, this ammunition will spray its target, unlike a bullet that will focus on one point. The definition of scattershot: something that is broad but random and haphazard in its range To apply to more than 12 colleges is to begin to err on the side of "broad and random". It is to cave to the exterior pressure and to abandon the initial plan of attack: to establish the best fit and match for each individual student. Focussing on Best Fit Decisions helps to narrow the 3000 four-year undergraduate colleges in the US to a dozen, both reach as well as likely acceptances, in a manageable cohesive list.