The College Admissions Game: “How many colleges should I apply to?”

3 mins read

Reader Question: “How many colleges should my child apply to? I feel anxious she only has 5 colleges on her list. My friends’ kids all seem to have 10+… What is the best number?”

As a college admissions representative, I often get asked by high school seniors how many colleges they should apply to. It’s a valid question, as the college application process can be time-consuming and costly, and students want to make sure they’re making the most of their efforts.

First, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The number of colleges a student should apply to will depend on their individual circumstances, goals, and priorities. That being said, there are a few factors to consider when deciding how many colleges to apply to.

One factor to consider is your likelihood of being accepted. If you have strong grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, you may have a higher chance of being accepted to a wider range of colleges. On the other hand, if your academic or extracurricular profile is not as strong, you may want to focus on applying to colleges where you have a higher chance of being accepted.

Another factor to consider is your budget. College tuition and fees can be expensive, and you’ll want to make sure you can afford the schools you’re applying to. If you’re applying to private colleges, you may want to consider applying to a mix of expensive and more affordable schools, as you may be able to negotiate a better financial aid package at a more expensive school.

It’s also important to think about your goals and priorities. Are you looking for a particular major or program of study? Do you want to attend college in a specific geographic location? These factors can help narrow down your list of potential colleges and make it easier to decide how many to apply to.

In general, I recommend applying to at least 3-5 colleges. This allows you to have a range of options without overwhelming yourself with too many applications. However, if you’re unsure about where you want to go to college or have a lower chance of being accepted to your top choice schools, you may want to apply to more colleges. It’s not uncommon for students to have 8-12 colleges on their list.

Ultimately, the key is to find a balance that works for you. Don’t feel like you have to apply to a certain number of colleges just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Instead, take the time to research and consider your options, and apply to the number of colleges that feels right for you.

Andrea Bernal

Admissions consultant for California high schools for 15 years. Currently advisor and educational material specialist at IVY'D College Prep.