How many schools should I apply to?

Cyndy McDonaldCyndy McDonald
Founder
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)

It's not the number of schools you apply to that is important. It's the thought and care put into each application. If you are applying to some very exclusive, competitive programs at colleges, you may need to apply to up to 30 colleges. If your best friend knows exactly where he wants to go, and knows he can get in, he might apply to one college. The more you search, ponder, and apply based on your needs as a student, the fewer colleges you will need to apply to. And don't forget, applications, test score reports, and other things connected to college applications cost money.

Rhiannon Schade
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn

This is a question to which there is no absolute answer that works for everyone, but there are some factors to consider that will affect the overall size of your final college list. You certainly won’t have time to apply to all of the more than 4,000 colleges in the country (and many more abroad), so you have to prioritize. I typically recommend having one to three schools where you know your chances of admission are very strong, two to five where you feel the admission decision could go either way, and one to three colleges for which you feel you are reaching. Students following this recommendation can sometimes apply to as few as four colleges and as many as 11. If your college list is longer than 12 colleges, it is very likely that you have not been thoughtful enough about where to apply. In which case, you should revisit your college research and priorities.

Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg
Freelance Writer
Former High School Counselor
The saying, “more is not necessarily better” applies to a lot of things in life, including college applications. When it comes time to your final list of schools to apply to, you don’t want to be flipping the page and adding more names on the back. If you’ve done your homework (online research, campus visits, talking to admission reps, etc.), you should be able to pare down your original list of potential schools to those you really want to attend.

How many should be on that list? There is no singular right number. A good rule of thumb is to choose two to three “safety” schools, where your academic standing exceeds the average range required for freshmen. Next, identify two to three “target” schools that are competitive, but you still have what it takes to get in. Finally, choose two to three “dream” schools, where your academic record is on the low end (or not even within the range) of the average incoming freshman. Any more than that and this process starts to get expensive and potentially overwhelming. And one final note: just because the Common Application makes it easy to add in a few extras, that’s not a good reason to apply.

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