Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
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. In 2021, the average Common App use submitted 5.78 applications through the Common App alone.
Just as important as the number of schools you apply to is the types that you choose. It’s a good idea to apply to a wide spread of 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 in the fall. 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; each application typically costs around $43. An application bill of over $430 can be overwhelming, especially if you have to pay to send test scores to each one.
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.
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 still not practical.
You may be interested in a wide variety of schools, but it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually 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.
Types of colleges to apply to
When you apply to college, you should apply to a spread of safety, reach, and match 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, and 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.
Frequently asked questions
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.
Also see: How to plan your college tour