Here’s the Number of Colleges You Should Actually be Applying to

Senior year of high school is one of the most exciting years of your life. Many once-in-a-lifetime events are quickly approaching, but one seems to stand out above the rest ––the time has come to apply to college! You’ve anticipated this moment for a while, and suddenly, it’s here. Where do you begin?

According to Jon Frank, Founder and CEO of Admissionado, students should apply to a minimum of seven to eight colleges. However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach here ––if you have the time, money and interest in applying to more, go for it!

"15 schools is a decent number for those who are just competitive and would like to test the limits of their potential," Jon says. "Once you climb above 15, while there's no rule saying you can't or shouldn't, it can start to get a little excessive for the average student. Still, if you are highly motivated and have the time and cash to spend on churning out as many applications as you can, you have nothing to lose!"

Whether your current prospective college list contains 20 schools or two schools, don’t fret. Read below for a guide to finalizing your college list.


Determine your competitiveness

With thousands of colleges and universities across the United States, beginning the college application process can be overwhelming for even the strongest applicant. A good starting point is to determine how competitive you are based on your SAT or ACT scores. "Suppose your SAT score is 1250," Jon says. "Put together a list of schools whose mean SAT score is 1250 +/- 100 points." Your list will probably be long after this first step, but that's okay!

Find three or four match schools

After you've listed the schools whose standardized test ranges you fall into, your next step is to rank these schools to determine the best three or four for you. These schools will be your "match" schools. What are match schools and how do you rank them?

Match schools are colleges or universities that you have a pretty solid chance of getting into, and are good matches for you overall. There are no guarantees that you'll get in, but it is reasonable to assume you have a good chance. These schools can range from your local state school to an out-of-state university.

"Pick your three or four best choices among the schools with the best reputations on your list," Jon says. "Do not focus on factors like student-faculty ratio, geography, class size, etc." According to Jon, reputation should come before any of these factors. If you are ranking schools with equal reputations, then look at these factors. 

Choose at least two safety schools

A safety school is a college or university that you know you have a very good chance of getting accepted into, even if it isn’t one you are extremely interested in going to. We know what some of you may be thinking ––why apply to a school that may not be as desirable as some others on your list?

It’s all about reassurance. "Once you've dialed in your core match programs, be smart about applying to the best schools below that range to determine your safeties," Jon says. "[These are] schools where you know you'll be accepted with near 100 percent certainty. Remember, you can always transfer or decide not to attend that college, but don't ever put yourself in a position not to have a choice in the matter." Whether or not you attend one of these schools, safeties give you the comfort of knowing you’ll get accepted somewhere and not be stuck at home. 

"Don’t be too distracted by the possibility that you may not be too excited about these schools at the time of your application ––that’s okay," Jon adds. These schools aren't supposed to be the most interesting on your list, pre-collegiettes. Make sure you are applying to at least two! 

Related: What Type of College You Should Go to, Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Pick two or three reach schools

A reach school is, a college or university where your academic record falls under the average of an incoming freshman. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply! "These are places you have a shot at [getting into], but where admission may not be likely," he says. "Reasonable reach programs are those that likely sit wherever 100 points above your SAT score ends up." According to Jon, you should be applying to two or three reach schools. 

Distinguish between a reach school and a dream school, as you don’t want to waste your time and money. "Remove the world’s elite colleges from the equation altogether ––Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, etc.," Jon says. "These should be treated as “dream” schools, even if your last name is Obama. Whether you’re an above-average student, or an exceptional one, there is simply no great chance at getting accepted to a place like Stanford or Harvard or MIT, period. That’s universal, across the board." So, how do you determine the difference between a reach school and a dream school?

A dream school is one where the student is almost certain not to get accepted. "Reach schools, on the other hand, should include schools where a student has a chance at admission in theory (however narrow)," Jon says. "Outside factors like acceptance rates, the whims of a school in a given year, and other such circumstantial pressures can adversely influence the outcome. In other words, with reach schools, often times students who “should have gotten in,” might not." It may be intimidating to apply for a reach school, but you will feel satisfied that you gave it a shot.

Finalize your list

Now that you have considered all of these things, pre-collegiettes, you are finally ready to cut down the list of colleges you’re interested in into a finalized list of colleges you’ll actually be applying to. After you've locked in your safety, match and reach schools, the sky is the limit! 

"Once you have all those boxes checked, then knock yourself out and take a chance at absolutely anywhere," Jon says. "After all, you’re now playing with casino money. What if your story hits the right guy on the right day at the right moment?" The college application process is very individualized. Be smart about your options, but don't feel constrained in how many schools you should or shouldn't be applying to.

Margeaux Biché, a junior at Barnard College, took advantage of applying to as many schools as possible ––both during her senior year in high school and when she decided to transfer after her freshman year. "I applied to 10 colleges my senior year of high school, and then 8 more when I transferred after my freshman year," she says. "I think both of these [numbers] gave me a good spread of safeties and reaches."

Jon recommends to stay level-headed throughout the process. "Do not get hung up on the optics of it all. Yes, reputation matters, but there comes a point where success later in life starts to overtake the relevance of your alma mater," he says. "If you look at any list of people you admire, it’s not made up of exclusively Ivy League grads. Whatever the outcome, preserve your hunger for success at all costs. Let the path be whatever it needs to be, as long as it gets you there." 

The looming question of which colleges to apply to is a lot less intimidating when you break down your options into categories, pre-collegiettes. Familiarize yourself with the terms safety, match and reach schools and you’ll be well on your way to success in the college application process. The perfect school for you is out there! It’s just a matter of finding it ––and you don’t have to go through the process alone.