How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

It’s one of the college planning questions we hear the most at our offices: How many schools should I apply to?

To begin with, keep in mind the admissions process today is far different than years past. Thanks to the ease of electronic filing and innovations like the standard application, the number of applicants to schools has shot up.

Meanwhile, schools are both becoming more selective – as they have a larger pool of applicants to draw from – and simultaneously more unsteady, as a larger percent of accepted applicants may attend elsewhere.

So, what’s the proper number of schools to apply to? The answer, unsurprisingly, is “it depends” – but let’s figure out what the proper number might be for you.

– Scott

How To Figure Out the Right Number of College Applications

1. Get Help

How much help families looking at college varies wildly, of course. Some students are in a class of 2000 with 2 college advisors for everyone. Others are in a graduating class of 60 and have 3 advisors to share.

Generally speaking, the lower the college counselor-to-student ratio, the better chance you as a student have of figuring out your odds at any given school.

And the better you know your chances, the fewer schools you need to apply to. If you’ve received good advice, have done your homework on a school – perhaps including visits – and have spoken with professionals, then you should have a very good idea where you fit in.

In such a case, you might only need to apply to a single safety school, with a high degree of confidence that you’ll get in.

Conversely, if you haven’t been able to visit many or any schools, your college counselors barely know your name, and you aren’t really sure how schools are likely to react to your applications, you’ll need to apply to many more schools. At least two – and maybe three – safeties, and a number of target schools that shade an entire range of levels, rather than two or three in your known wheelhouse.

financial aid help

2. Understand Your Aim

  • How important is the name and prestige of your school?
  • How much do you want a challenge?
  • How happy will you be with your third choice?  Your fourth choice?

These are important questions – because if you won’t be happy with anything but the best, you’ll need to apply to a lot of reach schools.

Reach schools – those where your credentials would be below average, or which are just so hyper-competitive that no one is guaranteed a spot – are, by definition, far from sure things. If you’re determined to attend an Ivy anyway, you might have to apply to all eight of them – especially if your grades or test scores aren’t exemplary.

Of course, even filling your plate with reach schools doesn’t mean you’ll get into one. So you’ll need your target schools and safety schools as well.

Meanwhile, some students apply to only one school they consider a safety or sure thing – because it has something else they want, like a great location or a special extracurricular.

Decide what will make you most happy – and apply accordingly.

3. Your Time

If time were no object, every student would apply to every school, so they had the fullest possible choice come decision time.

As it is, most seniors compare the application process to carrying an extra class fall semester – it takes that much time and effort.

So, as you decide how many places you’d like to apply, remember to take the time involved into account.

Generally speaking, if you aren’t sure you’ll get in somewhere you’ll love, do the extra application to cover your bases. If you aren’t sure which of three near-equal schools you’d prefer, spend a little time beforehand knocking one off the list.

You want to have choices at the end of this process. But you don’t need eight choices – you need two or three. Make as many as possible beforehand, so you save yourself time, give your most important applications your fullest attention, and have a good idea what you’ll do when the big day arrives.

To your college admissions success,

Scott Weingold
Co-Founder, College Planning Network LLC
Publisher, – The free educational resource of College Planning Network


Return to College Made Simple's Free Reports

Find us on Facebook! Find us on Facebook!

Increase Your SAT Scores Learn How to Increase the SAT Score... By 203 Point or More
Just tell us where to send the full report...
We'll also send you - at no charge - the College Funding Made Simple e-Course, delivered to your email inbox in 12 parts, by topic. With each part, you'll come away with valuable, actionable insights proven to help parents and students in the college admissions and funding process.

NO-SPAM PLEDGE: We believe that your personal information should stay that way. Rest assured, your email address is 100% confidential, and under no circumstance will we ever rent, sell or give away your email address outside of our own network without you specifically requesting us to do so.

Leave a comment
Your comment

Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.