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How many colleges is too many?


I have a really long list of colleges I am planning to apply to. Since college admissions are so up in the air right now, do you think it is better to apply to more schools or less schools? How many safeties vs. reach schools should I apply to? I have already written my UC essays, and my main common app. If you could give me some guidance that would be great.


3 answers

answered on

Normally, I'd suggest applying to 6-15 colleges. These should include 2-3 safety schools, some match schools, and some reach schools. However, that would be hypocritical as I, myself am applying to 18 colleges. This is what I will tell you.

If you are applying to multiple colleges within the same system, that will reduce your workload. For instance, if you live in Texas or California, you can likely apply to 20 colleges without overloading yourself. However, if you are applying to 20 separate colleges (for instance if you were applying to your state flagship and 19 reach schools) you could easily run the risk of burning yourself out. Since you seem to have UC essays done, I'd say you should be good.

Also, some advice for reducing a list. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT shotgun ivy league colleges. Dartmouth is extremely different from Princeton. A student like me who loves Brown's open curriculum would hate the core curriculum of Columbia. This applies to other long reach colleges. Amherst is very different from Swarthmore. Wesleyan is very different from Colby. If that is a reason your list is so long, you should research your BEST FIT and that could reduce your list.

Make sure to factor in cost as well. College apps cost around $70, and sending SAT/ACT scores costs $15/score send. This can easily go over $1500 if you are not careful.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please comment below!

answered on

Formulating your list: The general consensus is that you should have 1/2 your list be targets (in the 30-50% acceptance range), 1/4 reaches (about 25% or lower chance) and 1/4 safeties (85% or higher, basically guaranteed acceptance). IMO a good number of schools to apply to is about 10-15 with three or four being safeties. For reference, my list is 10 schools and of the 10, three are safeties, three are reaches/hard targets (ivys) and the other four are targets.

COVID impact: I think that as long as you can manage 1) paying application fees, or filling out waivers and 2) writing all the supplemental essays, then there is nothing really stopping you from applying to as many as you want schools. I don’t think you need too many safeties because you probably are not gonna go to any of them, or worst-case if you do, only one instead of the many that you will be applying to. You should not apply to over 20 schools because at that point either you’re just doing a crapshoot, in which case you know some schools will flat-out reject you (why apply then, since it’s a waste of time and money if you know you’re not getting in) OR you just need to maximize your financial aid offers, in which case I unfortunately don’t really have perspective to offer you.

Generally, I would stick to 10-15 and 3-4 safeties, and if you need help narrowing down your list just straight-up think “if I got in, would I go here?” If not, take it off the list. If there’s anything you don’t like about the college that would be a dealbreaker (location, bad program, politics/campus culture, scenery/campus, food, etc) then don’t apply. If you have the good fortune of being to apply anywhere you want (from a financial standpoint), then be a little bit selfish and just think about whether you would personally be happy going there :)

20 colleges is possible for someone from California. If they apply like me and apply to 7 UC and 4 CSU, then they can easily do 9 other apps.
Ah I forgot about the UC application, sorry! Im from NY and not a lot of ppl apply to the UCs from my high school so the 20 app kids are writing w 20 different supplemental essays lol…. but yeah just make sure to keep it a manageable amount :) (thanks for the additional perspective)
Yeah I'm applying to 18 colleges :). It's a lot, but manageable precisely because I am from California. I often envy people on the east coast because I feel like their college lists would be so short.
Mine’s ten, but only since my parents are limiting me cause they’re paying for the apps. Otherwise it would be closer to 15 haha, so yeah, 20 doesn’t seem too out there. I think as long as you can manage you can apply to as many schools as you want to!
answered on

So while I agree with Adri and Crsgo I’d apply to

Dream school typically a really prestigious school ie Rice

Safety School sure you will get in ie Kansas

Cheap school ie instate school that isn’t the flagship such as UTEP

(Cheap and safety may overlap)

Schools you’d like to go to (typically targets) ie UT Austin.

As I believe Crsgo said don’t apply to a school becuase of its name/prestige apply becuase you’d like to go there.

Typically if you already have a list and are narrowing it down ask yourself does any other school on my list is just better than one school that is the same catergory.

Also I’d apply to typically 2-5 dream school, 3-5 cheap/safeties then 4-7 schools you’d like to go to. Again think about your finicials as ivies can be cheaper then instate due to aid.

Hope this helps and please comment if you need clarification as I’d be happy to help clarify!