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How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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and Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: November 29th, 2023
How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

As you put together your college applications, you may be wondering how many colleges you should apply to. This number can vary student-by-student, but typically, it’s a good idea to apply to between five and seven colleges. 

The type of colleges you choose to apply to is just as important as the number of schools. It’s a good idea to apply to safety, reach, and match schools to ensure that you are accepted by at least one school you are excited about. Let’s get into the ways in which you can choose the right distribution of schools to apply to.

Related: When to apply to college

How many colleges to apply to

At minimum, it’s a good idea to apply to five colleges. Any less than five puts you at risk of having a couple of unlucky admissions reads and ending up without a good option. Submitting between five and seven applications should give you a couple of options to choose between once you receive acceptances. This way, you’ll be able to do some accepted student college visits. These will help you decide on the optimal school for you.

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

How many colleges are too many?

Typically, it’s a good idea to cap your applications at ten. Anything beyond ten becomes impractical for a few reasons. The cost of applications is the first reason; Most schools charge in the range of $50.00. Spending $500 can be overwhelming, especially if you have to pay additional funds to send test scores to each one. 

Related: How much do college applications cost?

Fee waivers

As a reminder, students often qualify for fee waivers for applications depending on their family’s income status. Don’t be scared away by application fees for schools you are genuinely interested in. If you can’t find a fee waiver, ask about other ways to apply without a fee. 

Related: How to get a college application fee waiver

Put thought in where you apply!

If you apply to too many schools, you might end up overwhelming yourself with the work that goes into supplemental application essays. In addition, the amount of tracking for so many applications is not practical. 

You may be interested in a wide variety of schools, but it’s inevitable that you’ll be able to rule some options out. It’s a better idea to weed out some of the schools before your applications rather than after. This will save you a lot of time and money. Realistically, if you apply to over ten schools, you won’t have time to visit or properly research many of your options.

Keep in mind that this is not a hard-and-fast rule, and you won’t be at a disadvantage if you apply to more than ten schools. But remember that you should balance your applications with your schoolwork and extracurriculars. Time is scarce when you are applying for college, and it’s a good idea to use your time wisely.

Advice From a College Access Professional

Generally, 8-12 is a good number to aim for. This allows students to apply to a broad range of schools while not overextending themselves. The most important thing for most students is to identify a few schools that are safe financially. This means that you are likely to get into them and likely to afford them. To assess your likelihood of admission, you should see how your grades and test scores stack up to the averages at the college. If your high school uses Naviance or other admissions planning tools, you can see how you stack up against past applicants from your school.
Will Geiger

Scholarships360 Co-Founder

Former Associate Director of College Counseling at Hopkins School

Types of colleges to apply to

When you apply to college, you should apply to a spread of safety, match, and reach schools

  • Safety schools are schools that you feel confident that you’ll be admitted to 
  • Match schools are schools that you feel you have a strong chance of being admitted to
  • Reach schools are options that are less likely to admit you 

If you apply to several of each of these options, you’ll be left with a good spread of options when you hear back. Assuming you gain admission to any reach schools, you’ll probably end up attending them. If you are admitted to safety and match schools, you may be offered more financial aid at safety schools. You can then decide if your preference for your match schools is worth the extra price they carry.

You’ll also want to apply to at least one in-state public school. You may not be excited by the prospect of the school, but it’s a good option for a financial safety school. These schools typically have dramatically reduced tuition for in-state students, and if all else fails, they will be a great economical option for you in the fall.

Also see: How to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Ideally, you should apply to between five and seven colleges
  • Apply to an even spread of safety, reach and match schools 
  • Applying to too many schools has its disadvantages such as cost and difficulty tracking all of the applications. 
Key Takeaways

Also see: How to plan your college tour

Frequently asked questions about how many colleges to apply to

I have my heart set on one college. Is it worth applying to more?

Yes, you must apply to more than one college! There’s always a chance that your dream college won’t accept you or won’t offer sufficient financial aid. And you may even change your mind in the time between application submissions and acceptances. You’ll definitely be happy to have applied to more than one college.

Should I apply to other colleges if I applied Early Decision?

If you applied to Early Decision, especially Early Decision II, you’ll want to apply to other colleges too. You’ll still be bound to accept your Early Decision offer if you are accepted. But in the event that you are not accepted, you’ll want to have other options lined up.

Is it worth applying to colleges I haven’t visited?

Definitely! You’ll want to apply to between five to seven colleges, and most students won’t have the chance to visit all of them before submissions are due. In fact, many students wait to make most of their visits until after they’re accepted in order not to waste their time touring schools that don’t accept them.


Related: Missed a college deadline? Here are your options

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