College Planning

How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?

It can be confusing not knowing if you’re applying to too few colleges. Or too many. So, how many colleges should you apply to? The short answer is that it depends. Here are some tips.

To begin with, divide colleges that interest you into three categories:

  • Safety schools: You have a strong chance of getting admitted based on your GPA, test scores, and coursework. You’re confident you’ll get accepted.
  • Match schools: You have a reasonable chance of getting admitted. Your GPA, test scores, and coursework are a match to the average student who attends.
  • Reach schools: You have a possible chance of getting admitted, but it’s a long shot. Maybe your GPA and/or test scores are below the average student who attends.

Besides academic qualities, you should also consider social and financial fit when adding schools to your list.

So how many of each should you apply to? 3-2-1. Three reach, two match, and one safety school. If you’re having trouble narrowing it down in any category, feel free to add one or two more. That brings you to a total of 6–8.


But remember: It depends.


Consider applying to more colleges if:

  • You’re applying to super-selective colleges. These colleges are highly competitive. Increase your chances by sending more applications. For example, in addition to your list of selective colleges, you can diversify your application pool by adding matches and safeties.
  • You can apply to multiple colleges in 1 tool. Some application programs—including state systems—use the same application for multiple colleges. Take advantage of this efficient, time-saving strategy.


Consider fewer colleges if:

  • You need to stay within a certain budget. The costs of applying to colleges add up. Think carefully about what you’re comfortable spending on fees. If you’re income-eligible, you may qualify for college application fee waivers, so you can apply to colleges for free. Be sure to talk to your counselor to learn about any fee waivers you qualify for.
  • Your specific needs are met by very few colleges. If the program you’re looking for is only found at a select number of colleges, you’ll have a shorter list. Just keep in mind that only applying to 1 or 2 colleges can be risky.


Other things to consider:

  • You have the option to apply for early decision. This application process happens before the regular admissions timeframe. Applying early decision is a binding agreement between you and that 1 college. You’re expected to accept if you’re admitted.
  • Colleges review your applications in a holistic way. Lots of factors are considered. Admissions officers look at your GPA and the courses you took, and they may also consider SAT and ACT scores. They’ll review your personal essay, letters of recommendation, résumé, and extracurricular activities when considering admission.
  • Applying to as many colleges as possible isn’t the goal. Instead, apply to colleges based on your research and fit.
  • Be sure to check out our College Search tool to start building your college list. Students in the class of 2023 can qualify for a chance to win $40,000 and $500 scholarships by saving a list of 6 or more colleges on BigFuture.


Finally, apply to colleges you’d be happy to attend. That applies as much to your safety schools as it does to your matches and reaches. If you see you have too many choices on your list, narrow it down. Although this part of the application process can be stressful, it’s exciting to imagine where you might be able to go!


Visit BigFuture™ for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.