How Many Schools Should You Add to Your College List?

By IvyWise on Thursday, February 25, 2021

Learn How Many Schools to Add to Your Balanced College List

When students are working on compiling their balanced college lists, one of the first questions that often comes to mind is how many universities should they apply to. While there isn’t one magic number for every student, there are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Ultimately, students need to balance keeping their options open while also making sure they aren’t spreading themselves too thin. Keep reading to learn about pinpointing how many schools you should aim to apply to. If you’re looking to learn even more about creating your balanced college list, check out our recent Just Admit It! podcast episode on the same subject.

Start With a General Range

Although there isn’t one magic number of schools that all students should aim to apply to, there is a range that will likely work well for many applicants. Here at IvyWise, our admissions counselors frequently recommend that students consider applying to somewhere between 8 and 12 colleges. Instead of focusing solely on reach schools, it’s important that your list includes a balanced selection of colleges that are targets, reaches, and likelies.

If you’re unsure about where your schools fall in this range, check out the admitted students’ profile on each college website to get a sense of the GPA and test scores needed to stand out as a competitive applicant. Avoid focusing only on “name brand” schools such as Ivy League colleges and instead prioritize the choices that most closely align with your needs and goals

Don’t Let External Factors Sway Your Decision

Over the past few years, students have increasingly applied to a greater number of colleges. A recent study revealed that overall college applications were up by 10 percent this year, reaching over 5.5 million. However, just because many students are increasing the number of colleges on their list of schools to apply to, that doesn’t mean that you need to do the same.

At the end of the day, quality matters more than quantity. It doesn’t make sense to apply to 30 colleges if you’re only really interested in 7 or 8. Instead of applying to every single school that piques your interest, take your time to weigh each option and pinpoint which schools are truly the best option for your needs and goals. Sometimes, that may mean narrowing down your selection of schools so you can really give your applications your all.

Be Realistic About Your Workload

Don’t forget that you will be expected to create a compelling application for each school on your best-fit list. The best applications are tailored to each school and reflect a students’ research and commitment to a specific college. Even if you get an early start on your admissions process, it will be challenging to compile personalized and thoughtful applications for 15 schools or more.

Keep in mind that many colleges will require their own set of supplemental essays, so you may need to write a number of different responses for each school on your list. These essays and short answer questions can add up quickly. To avoid feeling overwhelmed and ensure you meet your application deadlines, it can be advantageous to narrow your focus to a smaller range of schools that you are truly passionate about. 

Compiling your balanced college list is one of the most important parts of your application process. Instead of adding every school to your best-fit list, we encourage students to be selective and identify the schools that best align with their personal preferences and priorities. If you’re putting together your college list and looking for guidance, our team of college admissions counselors can point you in the right direction.

Related Topics
College Application Tips, College Lists
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