What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

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We at CollegeVine have heard nearly every question there is to ask about college admissions. In fact, after working with thousands of students, we’ve learned which questions are most common, hearing them time and time again from eager aspiring college applicants.


One of the questions that we hear most frequently is, “How many colleges should I apply to?” This is a great question, and we especially like it because it’s one that actually has a concrete answer. Sometimes we hear questions that are harder to pinpoint like, What Is A Good SAT Score? or Should I Go To a Community College?


These questions are great too, but their answers aren’t as clear and depend more upon personal factors. In the case of how many colleges you should apply to, we have a fairly precise range to aim for. In this post, we’ll explain all about it. Keep reading to learn more.


How Many Colleges Does the Average Student Apply To?


In general, most students apply to 8-12 colleges. This is a good number to aim for, assuming that the applications you submit represent a broad variety of colleges. Usually, you will want to apply to at least 2 safeties, 4 targets, and 2 reaches.


A safety school is a school that you are likely to get into. This generally means that your statistics place you in the top 25% of admitted students. A target school is a college that you have a reasonable chance of attending. This means that your statistics place you in the mid 50th percentile of admitted students. Finally, a reach school is one that you’re not likely to get into. These include all highly selective colleges, and any colleges at which your statistics place you in the bottom 25% of admitted students.


To learn more about these terms and how to determine whether a specific school is a safety, target, or reach college, check out our post The College List, Decoded: Safety, Target, and Reach Schools.


Of course, just because the average student applies to 7-10 colleges, that doesn’t mean that you should apply to 7-10 colleges. There are sometimes other factors that will impact your ideal number of applications.


When Should I Consider Applying to More Colleges?

You should consider applying to more than 7-10 colleges if you are absolutely set on going to a highly selective college.


At top colleges, the acceptance rates now stoop well into the single digits. This means that these schools receive far more qualified applicants than they are able to admit. In order to further thin the pool of admitted students, many other factors are considered by the admissions committee and you will not know in advance which other factors are being most heavily weighed. Further, they will not be the same from one college to the next.


For example, at Harvard they might be looking to build their pool of international students or their incoming engineering majors. At Stanford, they might be looking to replace the kicker on the football team or admit more students interested in the performing arts. You never know which particular hooks will matter at these top schools, so applying to more of them is often a good strategy.



When Should I Consider Applying to Fewer Colleges?

Applying to fewer colleges isn’t usually ideal, but there are sometimes circumstances that necessitate it.


The most obvious reason that you would apply to fewer colleges would be if you’re applying early decision. In this case, you can only apply to one college and if you get in, you are required to attend. These applications are generally due in November and decisions are released by December, before regular decision application deadlines. If you apply and are accepted to your top choice early decision, you will only have applied to one school.


This isn’t the only case in which students apply to fewer than seven or so colleges. Sometimes, cost is a consideration. While fee waivers are an option for some students in financial need, most students will end up paying up to $75 per college application. In addition, you’ll need to pay for SAT or ACT score reports. These costs can add up quickly and if you apply to 10 colleges, you could end up spending more than $1000 on college applications.


In addition, college applications take time. Even if you apply to schools that accept the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you will often need to write supplementary essays for many schools. This time adds up quickly if you’re looking at 10+ additional essays.


Finally, sometimes a student will have very specific needs that automatically narrow the college list to just a few colleges. For example, if you need to live at home during college, you might simply apply to the 2-3 colleges within commuting distance. If you want to participate in Division I synchronized swimming, you’ll only have so many options. The same is true if you are considering a super unique major or field of study. In some cases, you simply won’t be able to find seven colleges you want to apply to.



What’s the Bottom Line?

If you aren’t applying early decision, we still recommend that you apply to between 7-10 colleges. If you are set on attending a particularly selective college and you are up for the cost and time commitment of more applications, applying to more schools is worthwhile. On the other hand, if you have highly unique needs or parameters for a college, you might not be able to find 7-10 that suit your needs.


Ultimately, we recommend that you aim for 7-10 colleges, but don’t apply to any colleges that you won’t be happy to attend. Submitting applications to schools you have no interest in attending serves no purpose other than saying you applied to the recommended number of colleges. Instead, we recommend that you search for as many schools as possible that fit your unique needs and priorities, then narrow the list if necessary.


Calculating Your Chances of Admission


As you work on your school list, you may be wondering how to figure out if a school is a safety, target, or reach. Sure, you see the official acceptance rates shared by colleges, but what about your own personal chances of acceptance? CollegeVine’s free chancing engine takes into account your grades, extracurriculars, test scores if you have them, course rigor, and all other elements of your profile that admissions officers will consider, to give you a concrete sense of how you personally stack up at a particular school. You can also adjust various factors, to see how, for example, a higher GPA would affect your chances.

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.