How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Back in your parents or grandparents’ generation, applying to college usually meant applying to a handful of first-choice schools and calling it a day. There were no AP tests, less competition, and fewer essays to churn out. Gone are the simpler days. You might have heard recent news stories about kids applying (and being accepted into) 20+ schools, including Ivy Leagues. While we don’t think anyone should apply to 20 schools, we are encouraging our students to apply to more schools than perhaps their parents did. In our years of helping students become the strongest possible applicants they can, we have discovered a range of schools that works best for our students.

There Should Be a First Choice

By the time you are applying to college, you should already have been on some college tours, understand which schools are targets and which are reaches for you and have a very good idea of what you want in a school. One school within your target range should really excite you. All of our students apply early decision to their first-choice school, with the exception of USC and the UC schools that don’t offer the option.

If you’re not sure where you would like to apply early decision, do your research. Reflect upon your college tours, ask yourself if you want a big school, or a small school, a train ride home, or a plane ride home. Consider all of the variables and find out which school best matches your criteria. You are going to have to choose eventually. You have a lot more to gain by making that choice now.

The Rest

After our students apply to their first-choice early decision option, we also help them apply to nine more schools with supplements. Our A to Z package offers seniors a personalized evaluation and pairs them with a college counseling expert who helps them cultivate a strategic list and takes them through the entire application process. At the end of this process, our kids will have applied to 10-13 schools. We usually cap it there.

Kids always ask us whether or not applying to more schools means guaranteeing more safe options. While in the world of finance, diversifying your portfolio is usually a smart strategy, in the world of college admissions, it’s not. It’s a fit thing. In our experience, there are about five schools for which you are a great fit. There are another five or so that are close, and the rest just really aren’t for you. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to fill out too many applications. Do good work on what’s in front of you and let the rest go.


Interested in finding out more about our packages for rising seniors? Reach out to us here.