How many schools should I apply to?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How many schools should I apply to?

Trevor Creeden
Director of College and Career Counseling Delaware County Christian School

How many schools should I apply to?

It is always best to apply to six schools. Two schools that are considered "reach" or "highly competitive" schools for you, two schools that are "moderately competitive" or your GPA and test scores are where their ranges are, and two "safety" or "fallback" schools that your GPA and tests scores are above what they are looking for. It should be a flexible list that fits your GPA and test score ranges.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

The number of colleges you should apply to

I recommend that a student apply to 6-8 colleges they have researched and feel would be a good fit. The numbers of applications being submitted by many students is ridiculous; they are known as "stealth applications". These are applications to colleges that have not been researched or "vetted" by the student, they are just applying in case they don't get in anywhere else. Please don't do this! Research your colleges, visit your colleges in person or online, contact the admissions rep's at the colleges to introduce yourself and perhaps set up an interview. Don't be a stealth applicant. If you truly do your homework and know the colleges you are applying to, there is no reason to apply to more than 10 at the very most.

Anne Richardson
Director of College Counseling, International & ESL Programs Kents Hill School

How many schools should I apply to?

The number is not as important as the range of schools. It is always important to apply to a range of schools - some reaches on down to some likely schools. A range is especially important if finances are going to figure into your choice of schools. Again, apply to a range of schools, remembering that some of the more expensive private schools have much better aid packages than state and public schools. Above all, each school on your list should be a school that you have researched; each school on your list should be a school where you can see yourself happily studying and living next fall.

Brad Jackson
Director of College Counseling San Domenico School

How many schools should I apply to?

As a general rule I ask students to apply to 8 schools: 2 which would be in the reach category, schools where your grades and Scores are on the low side of the middle 50% but schools where you really want to go; 2 on the Safety side, where your scores and grades are in the top of the mid 50% and schools where you really want to go; and 4 schools in the middle. The most important thing is that you can see yourself finding success and being happy at all the schools where you are applying.

Dale Ford
Counseling Department Chair Singapore American School

It depends...

If you have an absolute first choice school and you don’t require financial aid you should definitely apply Early Decision (ED) if that’s an option for your first choice school. Wait to hear and then apply to more places if you are deferred or denied. Colleges love to be loved (and want to know which students are really planning to attend) so ED improves the odds. If ED is not an option, apply to a couple of colleges likely to admit you, a couple mid range, and a couple reach schools. Just make certain that you will be admitted to at least one place where you would be happy to spend your next four years.

Darryl Jones
Sr. Associate Director of Admissions, Coordinator for Multicultural Admission/Intercollegiate Athletics Liaison Gettysburg College

How Many is Too Many?

I think the number of schools depends on how many you can honestly see yourself applying to and potentially attending. Seeking the proper fit in a college or university academically, personally, and socially will give you the best opportunity to thrive. There are realistically several places that will suit your needs, but as far as choosing the best matches for you, probably ten applications will suffice. Good Luck! Darryl

Diana Hanson
Common Sense College Counseling College Mentors

It all depends

The number of schools is less important than making sure you have a great mix of schools. Have you selected colleges that meet your needs academically and socially? Assuming you have, I usually recommend having 2-3 colleges in each category of enrollment expectation--reach, target, and safety. Though, of course, many students will have more or fewer on their list. Generally, students who are able to visit colleges ahead of time will have fewer on their application list than those who won't be visiting in person until after they receive acceptances. I also recommend making sure that your safety schools are all colleges you'd enjoy attending. (I define a safety school is one where your grades and test scores are above the middle 50% for that college and where the college accepts at least half the applicants...and remember that these are also the colleges where you have the best chance of receiving merit aid).

Donnamarie Hehn
Director of College Guidance Canterbury School of Florida

More than three and less than three hundred

Seriously, you should apply to a range of schools: some that you meet the minimum requirements, some for which you should meet the mid-range requirements, and some that would be a stretch for you to meet admission requirements. Generally, I would advise between seven and ten applications. No matter what the admission requirements are, all of the schools on your list should be colleges to which you would attend if you were accepted.

Ken Anselment
Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid Lawrence University

"Should" is a strong term...

...which suggests that there is a "sweet spot" number for all students. Your answer will depend upon how confident you are that the colleges on your list fit well with (a) your talents and aspirations; (b) your academic competitiveness, if applicable, with others in the applicant pool; and (c) your financial parameters. For some students, one college is perfect. For others, it may take few more. On average four to six seem to do the trick.

Lisa Carlton

Step 1: Create a well balanced college list

This is such a tricky question and it depends partially on the student's situation. You want to make sure that you apply to at least one college that you are very likely to receive an acceptance. Next, you will want to add in a number of "match" schools. These are schools where your profile matches closely to the middle 50% of the college's profile. Typically, a student will have 3-6 match schools. Finally, you may want to put that dream school on your list even if it is a stretch. Typically, my students apply to between 6-8 schools. You will find students who apply to many more than that; however, if your list is well crafted 8 colleges should be more than enough. The trick is to make sure you have a solid, balanced college list.