How Many Colleges to Apply To

I get this question from EVERY student I work with. As a general rule, I counsel my clients to apply to 6 to 10 colleges after they do their due diligence in researching and visiting colleges to find the best fits. Here is why this is a good baseline number of applications.

You Should Apply to a Mix of Safety, Target and Reach Colleges

There are three different categories of colleges – the “safety,” the “target” and the “reach.” When applying, you can include colleges from each category on your list. What I do say is that you should ask yourself, for every school that is on your list, “If this was the only school I got accepted to, would I be happy to go here?” If the answer is yes, then go ahead and apply, as long as it fits all of your criteria socially, academically, financially and emotionally (Your SAFE match). Why put any college on your list that doesn’t meet that criteria? Ask yourself this for EVERY school you are thinking about applying to. What I will say is that there are instances where a student doesn’t apply to any reach schools since their financial circumstances may preclude them from doing so. If the student has financial boundaries, doesn’t have financial need, and these are schools that aren’t going to provide them the merit money that they need to be within their financial boundaries then it shouldn’t be on their list.

Apply to at Least 1 Safety School

A safety school is a school that you will get accepted to given your credentials. “Safety” is not the equivalent of “bad” as “Reach” does not mean “good”. On the contrary – refer back to what I said previously: you should be happy to attend every school on your list. Safety ONLY means that you will most probably be accepted. Always have at least one safety school on your list.

The Majority of Colleges on Your Application List Should Be Target Schools

A target school is a school where your credentials fall within the range of students the college accepts and that you have anywhere between a 40% – 70% chance of getting accepted. Depending on the school and how your credentials fit into their criteria, a school may be more of a Target/Safety or a Target/Reach.

Go for a Couple Reach Schools

A reach school is one that will be challenging to get into, but is a school you would really like to attend. Don’t live with “what if’s” – apply to a couple of reach schools. I always say, have no regrets when you put down that deposit on the school you will be attending, that you did everything you wanted to, and could have, throughout your college journey. Make sure, though, per my previous comment, that these reach schools fit within your financial boundaries. The last thing you want to have happen is that you get accepted only to find out you can’t afford to attend. That can be devastating.

Why You Should Limit Yourself to Applying to Only 6 to 10 Colleges

Those that do their due diligence and ask themselves that very important question about each school on their list typically end up applying to 6 to 10 colleges. Of course this number can change depending on the major you are applying for and the number of schools that you have researched and found that fit all of your criteria. Typically, when you apply to more than this number, you are throwing schools up against a wall and seeing if any will stick, which can be a waste of your time, not to mention application fees. I like my students to go through a careful and thoughtful application process to arrive at their chosen 6 to 10 colleges, which keeps the journey from being a frantic and overwhelming exercise and makes it an exciting one.

Looking for help identifying which colleges to apply to? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone and by email.