How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Kathryn Favaro
College admissions consultant California College Prep

I advise most students apply to 5-15 schools

It is important to create a balanced college list representing safeties, targets, and reaches. To know how you stack up for each school, check out last year's average admitted student data and compare your numbers.

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.

Nicole Oringer
Partner Ivy Educational Services

generally between 7 and 10

It's best if you can naorrow down your choices so that you can really focus on each individual application and get to know each college that you are conidering. It can be very overwhelming to apply to too many colleges. Find a couple of ballpark, reach and safer choices and get to know these colleges!

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

It's quality, not quantity.

Everyone's college list will differ in number. It depends on how competitive your list is. I have the following categories-reaching for stars (all Ivies and then colleges at and above your record), stretch (still challenging), 50-50, and likely. If you have many reaching for the stars colleges, then your list will be longer because you need to balance it out. If you are someone with a mixed record (with one weaker area), you need a larger list as well. Other kids just have a few schools because their academic interests are so focused, they know where to go. Having a long list also means much more work with applications but the work now is worth having great choices. later.

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!

Esther Walling

How many is too many?

When you begin to apply to colleges hopefully you've already done your homework and researched the ones that have what you're interested in. No use applying to a big name school if they don't offer the major you want. Start with a list of about 30 that fit your requirements. You can use online sources like College Board and ACT to narrow down your choices by categories. If you have the chance to visit the ones on your list, do so. Look at your qualifications, talk to representatives, alumni, professors, sit in on classes. Use virtual tours if you can't visit. All this will narrow down your list. A good number to apply to is around 10 to 15 which include some reaches (highly selective schools), some reasonable stretches (ones that you have a really good shot at) and some sure things which could even include community colleges. That should give you a manageable number to work with and compare. Good luck with your search!

Calli Christenson
Director CLC College Prep Services

The Key Is To Create Options For Yourself

I know of a few students who will only apply to three schools this year. They have done their research by visiting the campuses, they understand their admission chances, and they have spent a lot of time seriously considering their college choices. These students know their chance for admission is very high (based on their test scores and GPAs) and they know that each campus will fit who they are as individuals quite well. Regardless of which school (or schools) admits them, they have options in which they feel confident and excited about. On the other hand, I also know of many students who will apply to eight or ten schools this year, simply because they want MORE options. And there is nothing wrong with this. I encourage students to cap their applications at about 10, as many more than ten can get very overwhelming. If you've decided to apply to several schools, it's important to be sure that you have back-up options. Apply to schools that fit who you are as a student and as an individual. Is your dream school slightly out of your reach? Apply anyways, but also apply to several "safer" options, as well. The point is: there isn't a magic number of schools that any one person should apply to. Do your research and understand the type of schools you're considering. Study the averages and trends for previous incoming classes to help you better understand your chances for admission. And remember: Always, always be sure you're creating options for yourself!

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.

Shannon Brady
Academic & College Counselor Brady College Counseling

Creating your college list

It is a good idea to have a range of selectivity in creating your college list. I advise students to have anywhere from 4-8 colleges on their list. 2-3 colleges in 3 categories: reach, match, and good bet. A reach school is where the incoming freshman profile is slightly above your own. A match school is where the incoming freshman profile is in line with your profile. Lastly, a good bet school is where the incoming freshman profile is slightly below your own. Often times a good bet school is where merit scholarship money can be found.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

How many schools should I apply to?

A carefully crafted college list should consist of around 9 schools. If you have done your research and have evaluated your high school record candidly, you should be able to create a list of 5 target schools, 2 likely schools and 2 dream schools.