How Many Colleges Should I Apply To? How Many is Too Many?

Thursday, October 08, 2020
How Many Colleges Should You Apply To

How many colleges should I apply to? This is a very common question students have as college application season approaches. Of course, the answer to this question can definitely depend on the student. 

When you think about how many colleges you should apply to, make sure to factor in the amount of time you’ll need to fill out each application, the application fee for each school, and the number of essays you’ll need to prepare. Some students can handle more, while others might get overwhelmed and end up turning in subpar applications as a result. 

But, if you’re hoping for a general answer that can apply to most students, you should aim to apply to about 7 to 10 colleges, with a solid mix of safety schools, solid target options, and reaches. 

Safety Schools (2-3)

As you start making a list of the colleges you want to apply to, keep about two or three safety schools on that list. Safety schools are the schools that you know, without a doubt, you are capable of getting into. These are schools that you might be overqualified for but that you would still enjoy attending and benefit from if you were accepted.

You might include your nearest state school in this list. Or you might include colleges that are not necessarily as prestigious as some but have other factors that attract you, like small class sizes, a great location, or a specific research or major program. 

When you look at the statistics for safety schools, like average GPA and test scores of admitted students, you should be in the top 25th percentile.

With a few safety schools on your list of colleges to apply to, you will ensure you have a solid option if all others fail, and you might be surprised to find you really like the elements and benefits some of your safety schools bring to the table.

Target Schools (3-4)

Then, you should include three or four solid target schools on your list. These are schools that you are certainly capable of being accepted to but still have to work towards. 

These are the schools that are likely your top choices and perfect fits based on your GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities. The colleges on this list should be places you would be thrilled to attend based on your aspirations and choice of major as well.

When you look at the GPA and test score statistics of your target schools, you should fit into about the 50th percentile of previously admitted students.

For these schools, make sure you have a plan to write solid personal statements, obtain great recommendation letters, and really take the time to make your application shine.

Reach Schools (2-3)

Finally, you should have two or three reach schools on your list. These are the schools that you know you might not get into because of your GPA or test scores or simply because of the school’s low acceptance rate.

You might include an Ivy League school or highly selective college or university on this list if you think it’s a reach but have a dream of attending. 

If you are in the bottom 25th percentile of students admitted to a school based on statistics, that school should be considered a reach.

However, it’s still worth applying to reach schools, because you never know if you will happen to be exactly the student that school is looking for that year. You might come from a city or background that intrigues admissions officers or write an essay that really sparks their attention.

Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

The most important message to keep in mind when it comes to how many colleges you should apply to is not to overwhelm yourself with the number of applications you have to finish. 

You will be better off paring down your list slightly to make more room and time for the applications that mean the most to you. 

Applying to college takes time, energy, and money, so make sure you have enough of all of those resources when you make your list. 

Keep in mind that some schools use the Common App or Coalition App, and those schools might have some overlapping essays and requirements. However, many schools will also ask you to write supplemental essays and gather unique information based on their own application process. 

So, apply to 7 to 10 schools, but many more than that will likely be too much to handle. Of course, the choice is always yours to make!