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?

What’s Covered:


There’s a lot for students to consider when building their college list as they weigh factors ranging from the location of the school to its size, and from the social scene to the amount of financial aid available to them.


As students research and refine their list, it’s common for them to wonder just how far down they should narrow it and in the end how many colleges they should apply to.


How Many Colleges Does the Average Student Apply to?


In general, most students apply to between 8 and 12 colleges. This is a good range to aim for, provided that the applications you submit represent a broad variety of colleges. Ideally, you want to apply to at least two safety, four target, and two reach schools. What are safety, target and reach schools?


  • A safety school is a college that you’re likely to get into. Typically, this 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.


  • A reach school is one that you’re not likely to get into. These include all highly selective colleges and any schools at which your statistics place you in the bottom 25% of admitted students.


Just because the average student applies to 8 to 12 colleges, doesn’t mean that you should do the same. There are a number of factors that influence how many colleges you should apply to.


When Should I Consider Applying to More Colleges?


There are a handful of good reasons to apply to more than the average number of colleges.


1. You’re a Student of Color


In the wake of the Supreme Court ending affirmative action in college admissions, students of color—particularly Black, Hispanic, and Native American students—will see their chances of college admission drop. Consequently, students of color may want to add an extra two or three safety schools to their lists.


2. You’re Applying to Selective Schools


You should consider applying to more than 8 to 12 colleges if you are absolutely set on going to a highly selective college.


At top colleges, acceptance rates now drop well into the single digits. These schools receive far more qualified applicants than they are able to admit, so they use a number of factors to thin the pool of prospective students. Unfortunately, you don’t know what elements of the application admissions committees are placing the most weight on. Furthermore, the most heavily weighted considerations may vary from one college to the next.


For example, Harvard might be looking to build their pool of international students or their incoming engineering majors, while Stanford might be looking to replace the kicker on its 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.


A word of caution: there’s no guarantee of admission at selective schools, no matter how many you apply to, and applying to ten schools with 10% acceptance rates doesn’t mean you’ll get into one of them.


3. You’re Excited About a Lot of Colleges


Another reason to apply to more than the average number of schools is if your list exceeds 12 colleges and you’re genuinely excited to attend all of them. Just be cognizant of your time and expense when applying to extra schools, which can mean writing extra essays and paying additional application fees.



When Should I Consider Applying to Fewer Colleges?


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


1. You’re Applying Early Decision


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’re 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.


2. Your Cost is a Consideration


Another reason for students applying to fewer than the recommended 8 to 12 colleges is cost. Although the increase in test-optional admissions policies has lowered the need (and expense) for additional SAT and ACT score reports, applying to more schools generally adds more cost.


Fee waivers can keep costs down for some students in financial need, however, most students will end up paying up to $75 per college application. These costs can add up quickly!


3. Your Time is a Consideration


Completing college applications takes time. Even if you apply to schools that accept the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you’ll often need to write supplemental essays for many schools. This time adds up quickly if you’re required to write 10+ additional essays.


4. You Have Specific Needs


Sometimes a student will have very specific needs that automatically narrow the college list to just a few schools. For example, if you need to live at home during college, you might simply apply to the two or three schools within commuting distance. Or, 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 eight colleges you want to apply to.


5. You Only Found So Many Schools You Love


Some students only find so many schools that meet their needs and desires. If you’re one of those students, you may be better served applying to only the schools you’re truly excited to attend than applying to a bunch of schools you’re not that enthusiastic about.


It’s common for students to get accepted at the schools they have the most interest in thanks to their passion and interest in the school resonating throughout their application.



So, How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?


If you aren’t applying early decision, we recommend that you apply to between 8 and 12 colleges. Even if you are applying early decision, we still recommend building a school list, just in case you aren’t accepted.


If you’re set on attending a particularly selective college and you’re undeterred by the extra cost and time commitment of more applications, it’s worthwhile to apply to more schools. Conversely, if you have highly unique needs or parameters for a college, you might not find 8 to 12 colleges that meet your needs.


Ultimately, our general recommendation is that you aim to apply to 8 to 12 colleges. We also suggest that you avoid applying to any colleges that you’re not excited 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, 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 build your school list, you may wonder which schools are safeties, targets, and reaches. Sure, you can look up official acceptance rates, but that doesn’t inform you of your own personal odds. This is where CollegeVine can help.


CollegeVine’s free chancing engine takes into account your grades, extracurriculars, test scores (if you have them), course rigor, and 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.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.