How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

applying to colleges

As the number of applications received by colleges and universities increases every year, college admission is getting increasingly competitive. High school students often ask the same question – How many colleges should I apply to? Even though there is no magic number to answer this question, it is advisable for students to apply to somewhere between 6 and 12 colleges. This number depends on your academic profile and the types of schools you want to get into. Generally, you want to divide your school choices into three groups and apply to 2 to 4 colleges in each group.


1. Reach Schools

The first group contains schools that are highly competitive based on your profile – we call them “reach schools”. When you compare your profile with the admission data (which you can usually find from the school’s website), you can see your GPA and test scores are below the averages. However, the gap is not too significant and you know there is a small chance that you can get into the school. You should expect your chance of being admitted is somewhere between 5% and 20%.


2. Match Schools

The second group contains colleges that are a strong match to your profile – we call them “match schools”. When comparing your profile with the admission data, you can see your GPA and test scores are somewhere around the averages. It is recommended that you apply to at least 3 schools in this category since applying to strong match schools does not necessarily mean a guaranteed admission. In fact, you should expect your chance of being admitted is around 50% to 60%.


3. Safety Schools

Finally, the third group contains colleges that many people call “safety schools”. These are the schools that you have high confidence that you can get into. Based on the admission data, your GPA and test scores are both higher than the averages. Even though these schools are not in your top priority list, you are still interested in going if you don’t get into your top choices. You should only apply to these “safety schools” if you are interested in going. Some students would rather go to community colleges and transfer to their desired schools after two years than go to these “safety schools”. If this is the case for you, you probably should not bother to pay the application fees to the schools that you most likely don’t want to go to.


Applying to More Than 6 Colleges?

Above is just a general guideline that works for most students. If you are applying to more than 6 or 7 colleges, make sure you give yourself extra time to prepare for the applications. The quality is definitely more important than quantity and you should create a college planning roadmap to help you organize the process. On the other hand, we want to emphasize that GPA and test scores are definitely not the only two things that schools consider. Every year, there are students getting into highly competitive colleges even though they have below average GPAs and test scores. Each student’s profile is unique, and each school has its own admission criteria. It is always a good idea to do your research, look at the school’s website, and talk to the admission representatives for more information.


Photo Courtesy by Kit from Pittsburgh, USA [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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