How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

For seniors, the stress of the SATs and grades are, for the most part, finally over. But now, you’re facing another challenge— college applications. Some are quick and easy through the common app, and others take a fortnight to finish, with a whole questionnaire and a million essays. Another challenge is actually figuring out how many schools to apply to. Personally, I applied to 14, and there are people I know that applied to just one. While there is no magic number, there are a few tips I can leave for you.


  1. 1. Figure out how many applications you can afford

    Some applications are free, and others cost upwards of nearly $100 without a fee waiver. If money is an issue, figuring out how many schools you can logically apply to is a good place to start. Often, many schools offer fee waivers if you ask for them!

  2. 2. Safety schools

    Apply to two or three safety schools— even if a representative from your top choice school has told you that you will get in, it is always a great idea to have backup schools. Even if you are certain you will get in, having only one safety school may leave you with only one option, and if you change your mind last minute, you’ll be scrambling trying to find schools with extended application deadlines.

  3. 3. Out-of-state schools

    If there’s any chance that you may want to go out of state, make sure you apply to at least one out of state school. Applying to two schools would be even better so you can have an ideal choice and a backup choice. Even if you’re certain you want to go out of state, still apply to one local school in case you change your mind last minute. 

  4. 4. Figure out your interests

    Figure out what schools you are interested in ahead of time— not at the end of December. If you have a solid list of possible interests ahead of time, it’ll make deciding which schools you want to apply to much easier.

  5. 5. Utilize guidance counselors

    Utilize the guidance counselors at your school for help with the whole process— they can tell you how many schools students in past years applied to and also help you decide on which schools you want to apply to.

From my experience and that of others, I wouldn't recommend applying to less than four schools. Applying to over eight makes the decision process much harder than it needs to be. Ideally, applying to five or six schools is a good range to aim for because that is just enough room for your top choice schools, safety schools and some in between. With five or six, you won’t be stuck narrowing down from twelve as I did, but you should also have some options and a backup plan just in case anything goes wrong.