How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

Dear College Made Simple Reader,

How many schools should you apply to?

There’s no simple answer, of course. First off, keep in mind the admissions process today is far different than years past.

Thanks to the ease of electronic filing and innovations like the standard application, the number of applicants to 4-year U.S. colleges and universities has shot up (according to data from the U.S. Dept. of Education).

Meanwhile, there has been an overall decline in acceptance rates at U.S. schools.

That means today’s college-bound students have to be even more judicious in the schools they decide to apply to.

Today, let’s look at how to figure out what the proper number might be for you.

– Scott

How To Figure Out the Right Number of College Applications

1. Get Help

How much help families receive while looking at college varies wildly, of course. Some students are in a graduating class of 2000 with 2 college advisors for everyone. Others are in a graduating class of 60 and have 3 advisors to share.

Generally speaking, the lower the college counselor-to-student ratio, the better chance you as a student have of figuring out your odds at any given school.

And the better you know your chances, the fewer schools you need to apply to. If you’ve received good advice, have done your homework on a school – perhaps including visits – and have spoken with professionals, then you should have a very good idea where you fit in.

In such a case, you might only need to apply to a single safety school, with a high degree of confidence that you’ll get in.

Conversely, if you haven’t been able to visit many or any schools, your college counselors barely know your name, and you aren’t really sure how schools are likely to react to your applications, you’ll need to apply to many more schools. At least two – and maybe three – safeties, and a number of target schools that shade an entire range of levels, rather than two or three in your known wheelhouse.

2. Understand Your Aim

How important is the name and prestige of your school?

How much do you want a challenge?

How happy will you be with your third choice? Your fourth choice?

These are important questions – because if you won’t be happy with anything but the best, you’ll need to apply to a lot of reach schools.

Reach schools – those where your credentials would be below average, or which are just so hyper-competitive that no one is guaranteed a spot – are, by definition, far from sure things. If you’re determined to attend an Ivy anyway, you might have to apply to all eight of them – especially if your grades or test scores aren’t exemplary.

Of course, even filling your plate with reach schools doesn’t mean you’ll get into one. So you’ll need your target schools and safety schools as well.

Meanwhile, some students apply to only one school they consider a safety or sure thing – because it has something else they want, like a great location or a special extracurricular.

Decide what will make you most happy – and apply accordingly.

3. Your Time

If time were no object, every student would apply to every school, so they had the fullest possible choice come decision time.

As it is, most seniors compare the application process to carrying an extra class fall semester – it takes that much time and effort.

So, as you decide how many places you’d like to apply, remember to take the time involved into account.

Generally speaking, if you aren’t sure you’ll get in somewhere you’ll love, do the extra application to cover your bases. If you aren’t sure which of three near-equal schools you’d prefer, spend a little time beforehand knocking one off the list.

You want to have choices at the end of this process. But you don’t need eight choices – you need two or three. Make as many as possible beforehand, so you save yourself time, give your most important applications your fullest attention, and have a good idea what you’ll do when the big day arrives.

To Your Family’s Successful College Admissions,

Scott Weingold
Co-founder, College Planning Network, LLC

Publisher, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC

Global Fellowship Opportunity

  • Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 4.50.21 PMLaureate Global Fellowship

    (we will reopen in Feb. 2014!)

    Launched in 2001 by the International Youth Foundation, YouthActionNet strengthens, supports, and celebrates the role of young people in leading positive change in their communities. Each year, 20 exceptional young social entrepreneurs are selected as YouthActionNet Global Fellows following a competitive application process. The year-long Fellowship program includes:

    • A seven-day leadership retreat for twenty selected Fellows which offers dynamic peer-to-peer learning, collaboration, and sharing among young visionaries
    • Focus on the personal growth and leadership abilities of Fellows, in addition to providing instruction in specific skills required to manage innovative, world-changing organizations
    • Year-round learning opportunities based on Fellows’ individual needs and the six dimensions of leadership highlighted in the YouthActionNet® Global Curriculum: Personal, Visionary, Political, Collaborative, Organizational, and Societal.

    Networking and Resources:
    • Access to potential resources to support Fellows and their projects, including volunteers, mentors, and grant opportunities
    • Opportunities to network and collaborate with IYF projects and partners
    • Membership in the YouthActionNet® global network of fellows and alumni

    • Training in areas such as communications planning, media outreach, message development, presentation skills, and innovative uses of new media technologies
    • Access to global advocacy platforms and media coverage


    • Open to all young people aged 18-29 (as of October 1, 2013)
    • Applicants should be founders of existing projects/organizations, or leading a project within an organization.
    • Proficiency in English is required; applications must be submitted in English
    • Must be available to attend full retreat (all expenses paid) in early October 2013.

    Learn more about the Fellowship application by checking out our Frequently Asked Questions, our Approach to Social Entrepreneurship, and Testimonials from previous Fellows!

About the application:

In order to provide our applicants with an outlet to clearly and thoroughly explain their projects/organizations and personal journey, the application consists of various components. In order for an application to be reviewed,all components must be completed.  



Video: The video is a mandatory portion of the application–if you do not submit a video, your application will not be considered. Your video will be the first opportunity we have to see your passion, knowledge, and unique perspective. We hope you will be specific and succinct in explaining your personal relationship to your work (why you do what you do), the steps you have made towards change (what your project/organization does) and what a successful future looks like for your project/organization.

We understand that there are varying degrees of technology access around the world and thus are willing to accept a variety of video qualities (from camera phones to Flip cameras) which will be given equal consideration across the pool of applicants. We much prefer a lower-quality video that directly addresses our questions to a professionally-produced video that does not address our questions. We are looking for authenticity.


Narrative Application: Within this section you will provide us with details that support what we learned in the video. Please remember to thoroughly describe your work in a way that an outsider with no knowledge of the issue you are addressing would understand. Help us understand the specific programs, projects, and activities that your organization offers. We are interested in your long-term vision, but it is important for us to understand your current activities. You must provide all requested information within the narrative application.


References: You will be asked to enter the contact information for two references who can discuss your eligibility for the fellowship.

Supporting Documents: You will have the opportunity to submit up to three additional documents that may provide judges with a better understanding of your project.

Youth International Exchange Opportunity

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, provides scholarships for secondary school students (age 15-17) from countrieswith significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. Scholarships for theYES Abroad Program are also available to U.S. citizens attending high school (age 15-18) to spend one academic year or a semester in select countries.