How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

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!

Sue Luse

How many schools should I apply to?


Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Presidet/Partner, Global College Search Associates, LLC

Cost is everything these days, and the fact is there are many ways to achieve your dreams, and not all of them involve traditional, expensive colleges. The first advice students and parents should take is to stop thinking about the glamorous Ivies. They don't want you, so don't waste your hopes and money on the app fees. They want your application so they can appear more selective to the rankings publications. It may sound cool to your friends and classmates to say you are applying to an Ivy, but the fact is the Ivies know who they are accepting and it's probably not you. But you don't need them, because there are many institutions out there that will provide you with what you need, which is to achieve a degree that will prove to employers (investors? your community? grad schools? your future children?) throughout your life that you can think, write, analyze, calculate, and be an ethical, productive member of society. That said, be aware of the games institutions play with you and your emotions. College is big business, and it is you they are manipulating toward their own goals. That admissions counselor who is telling you yes to everything you ask? They have recruitment goals; to their college administration, you represent application numbers and tuition and room and board dollars; that is who counselors answer to, and they are protecting their jobs by telling you what you want to hear (and they've done enough research on you and your generation to know exactly what buzz words you will appreciate.) Take responsibility for your college choices, and -- like any smart consumer -- do some digging to discover if their "walk" reflects their "talk." And if you need help doing that, find someone to talk to who knows admissions from the inside out. So go ahead and dream, but get realistic about how you will achieve your dreams. You should consider four types of college pathways (and honestly, any number of college application choices should be able to provide you with the same attributes I mention below): 1) Your dream school that offers your dream major -- any country, any cost 2) A college that meets realistic expectations about costs and loan repayment over time (and that means possibly until well after you have your own children and are saving for their college and your retirement at the same time -- not to mention potential lack of employment at various times.) 3) One with a solid liberal arts core. The most important and employment-transferable education over time is a liberal arts education. The truth is you will not succeed in any major or profession unless you know how to think critically and creatively, write well, and know how to work with figures. So if your high school academic record is not strong (and even if it is), the third type of college you should apply to is one that will provide you with strong academic support in core credits that will be transferable. Ideally, these credits should be be in the form of an Associate's degree, because should you decide to begin your undergraduate studies at a cost-sensitive institution, many colleges will transfer-in the Associate's degree as whole, which can reduce the cost of your education overall. This type of study can be taken at a traditional four-year college or your local community college. The amount of money you save by living at home (no matter how badly you want to get away) and attending two years of community college can save you and your parents from decades of unmanageable debt, not to mention the out of pocket costs of travel associated with attending a non-local college. The choice of a local college or community college shows financial intelligence and emotional maturity, so don't be a snob. All employers out there will be seeing is where you got your degree from, not where you completed your first one or two years. 4) Your public state university; many students look down upon their state universities, but the fact is that most of these institutions offer an incredible education in many, many areas of study. Again, don't be a snob. In short, apply to cost-sensitive colleges that will provide you with a solid liberal arts core. Save your big money for grad school and a specialization after you've been working for a few years. A Master's degree is the bottom line now for long-term professional employment.

Donovan Blake
Lead Consultant Griffin Blake Educational Consulting

IEP Students

I, as an Educational Consultant, recommend that my special needs students pick no more than 5 schools. With the assistance of the family we can narrow it doen to 3. We only apply to the 3 schools that are on our list. My students always get into there first or second choice. Using an Educational Consultant allows the students to pick schools that best support their needs and it saves the parent money in application fees.

Mark Gathercole
University Advisor Independent University Advising

How many schools should I apply to?

If you know what you want and do your research well, 6-10 should do it. Avoid the "shotgun" approach of thinking that the more Reach schools you apply to, the better your chances of getting in - a 10% acceptance rate gives you the same chance whether you apply to one or five of them. Find schools that fit you well and apply to some Targets and Likely entries, too. And don't just apply to any Likely school - make sure it is a school where you think you could be happy. Spread your list out and you will have a happy choice in April of several schools who want you, instead of hoping you "might maybe" get in to one!

Dr. Skarlis
Owner/President The College Advisor of New York

Number of schools you should apply to

You should apply to between seven and nine schools.

David Allen
Managing Director Global College Counselors Ltd

Too many or not enough

I'd say a good number is about 10 - any more and you have to ask yourself, would you really want to go to all of them, too few and you may not have enough of a spread. It would be wise to have no more than 3 'reach' schools, 5 or so 'good bets' and 2 or 3 insurance choices. Remember, it all costs money and will take up time you could be spending improving your grades!

Dori Middlebrook
Owner Dori Middlebrook Educational Consulting

How many schools should I apply to?

I usually recommend 8-10 schools. When creating a school list a student should have a balance of schools in three different categories. "Likely" schools-schools where the student's grades and test scores are above the averages for admitted students at that school last year. A student is "likely" to be accepted to these schools and often will receive merit aid if they choose to attend. I recommend 2-3 "likely" schools. "Target" schools-this category should have the highest number of schools in it. Target schools are schools where a student's grades and test scores are right in the middle of admitted students. A student has a 50/50 chance of being admitted to a target school. A student schould apply to 4-6 target schools. "Reach" schools-schools where a student's grades and test scores fall below the average number for admitted students. Acceptance to these schools is a reach and a student is less likely to be admitted. I tell students "you never know unless you try" but know that it will be highly competitive. I recommend 2 reach schools. Students should spend time researching schools and they should like their "likely" schools as much as they do their "reach" schools, they may end up with offers of admission from any of the schools. Remember the most important thing is selecting schools that are a good "fit"-consider size of school, location, majors, activities, housing, finances and much more to find the right school for you.

Judge Mason
Judge Mason Educational Consultant JMEC

The Rule Which May Be Broken

As a rule, I recommend two reaches, 3-4 reasonables and 2 sures.

Susan Hanflik
Educational Consultant Susan Hanflik and Associates

How many Is the right number?

There is no magic number that will ensure you get accepted into college. I think the best rule of thumb is to make sure you apply to a range of schools: schools where you are in the higher range of applicants, schools where you are in the mid-range, and reach schools. Many students get drawn into applying to many, many schools with the idea that it increases their odds of acceptance. Some students also think that they will apply and then make decisions about schools. That is a tremendous waste of time doing applications and money. Make some well thought-out decisions and go with them.