How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

One of the most common questions students have during the college admissions process is, “how many colleges should I apply to?” The number is really up to you. However, school counselors and college counselors typically recommend anywhere between five and eight colleges. A lot will go into your decision when it comes to determining how many colleges to apply to, but there are some things you should keep in mind as you are building your college list. Below are five things to consider as you are building your college list of the colleges that will receive your application.

1. Include match and safety schools

It is very important you have a good mix of match and safety schools.

  • Match School – A match or target school is one that will probably offer admission. Your high school grades and test scores will fall into the middle range when looking at the school’s profile.
  • Safety School – A safety school is one that will most likely accept your application for admission. Your grades and test scores will typically fall well above the school’s averages.

You can throw in a reach school or two, but they are not necessary if there is not a reach school you desire to attend.

  • Reach School – A reach school is a college that you might have a chance of being admitted, but something in your academic profile is on the low side when looking at the school’s profile.
2. Highly selective schools should always be considered reach schools

Just because you have stellar grades and test scores does not mean you will be admitted to a highly selective college (low acceptance rate). Many of the students who are applying to highly selective colleges will also have impressive academic profiles. Sometimes even valedictorians are not offered admission to highly selective colleges. Highly selective colleges don’t have the room to admit all of the students who are qualified to attend their institutions. Therefore, a highly selective college should always be considered a reach school when compiling the list of colleges you will apply.

3. Want to attend all colleges on your list

Many students make the mistake of applying to a safety school they never want to attend. Every college on your list should be one you can see yourself attending. The safety school could be lower on your list, but it should still be one you would be happy to attend. You might have match schools on your list that you should be admitted, but something might not work out. Maybe the match school receives a record number of applications this year and they need to be more selective. Or, maybe your match school doesn’t come through with the financial aid you were expecting. Whatever the reason, it is possible match schools might not offer admission or the financial aid you need. Therefore, choose safety schools you want to attend.

4. Don’t be over confident

There was a time when many students would only apply to one college. They applied to their dream college and they knew they would be admitted and could pay for it. However, you must keep in mind things were very different years ago. Acceptance rates were much higher in the twentieth century. In addition, the cost of attendance was much lower. Today, acceptance rates are lower and the cost of attendance is higher. In addition, financial aid is not always what you expect it will be. Therefore, it is important to have a handful of college you send your application.

5. There is no need to apply to 100 colleges

Every year there are stories of students who apply to hundreds of colleges. What is the point? Sometimes students are doing it so they have a lot of options when it comes to college. Or, they do it so they can have impressive statistics they can share with others. Applying to a lot of colleges takes a lot of time and energy. In addition, it can be quite expensive if the colleges have application fees. Do you think the students who apply to 100 colleges would be happy to attend all of the colleges that sent acceptance letter? Probably not. There was probably only a handful they wanted to attend. Why waste the time, energy, and money to apply to a college you would never attend? Save your time and money and only apply to the colleges you can see yourself attending.

The number of colleges that will receive your application may vary from other students. You might submit eight applications while your best friend submits ten. Each student will have different needs and wants when it comes to choosing colleges. Therefore, I highly encourage you to speak with your counselor and family to determine the right number of colleges for you. Consider the tips above and make sure the colleges on your list are a good fit academically, socially, and financially.

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