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If you’re starting your college list and application process, you may be wondering how many schools to apply to. It’s a good question! The magic number of applications differs from student to student. Read on to figure out how many college applications will work for you. 

What is a Balanced College List?

The average student applies to between 7-10 schools. Most school counselors recommend a balanced college list of target, reach, and likely schools.

Reach schools are colleges that are harder to get into. Likely schools are colleges you have a high chance of being accepted into because your GPA/test scores exceed their requirements. Most of the schools you apply to will be target schools, where your GPA/test scores fit within the college’s criterion. 

Factors to Consider

You may be wondering why the number of schools on your college list is so individualized. As we describe the factors below, you will understand how these different elements work together to create different circumstances for each person.


Unless you are only applying to schools on the Common App (a system that allows you to apply to multiple schools with one application), your applications will take time. Each application will have separate supplemental essays for you to work on. If you are applying to 15 schools, you can see how this time commitment could add up. Your college applications should not take time away from your schoolwork or other after-school activities. 


College application fees can be pricey. Each application could cost up to $75. That’s why it’s super important to do your research before you apply, rather than later. You don’t want to be spending a lot of money on an application to a school you aren’t actually interested in attending.

Fee waivers are available to those who qualify, but if not, you may want to discuss a budget with your family. Also, keep in mind that there might be additional costs associated with submitting standardized test scores and AP scores. Learn more about fee waivers here.

Application Deadlines

Depending on the types of college application deadlines you pursue, this may impact the number of schools on your college list. If you decide to apply early decision, you may submit an application to only one school. With this early process, you typically find out the admissions decision before other college application deadlines. We recommend still applying to a few more back-up schools in case things don’t pan out as expected. If you do receive an acceptance letter, you can simply retract your other applications. 

Specific Programs

If you are interested in an obscure sports program or academic major, your college list options may be narrowed down for you. For example, if you are interested in applying to the schools with the best marine biology programs, you will be able to reduce your options quickly in comparison to someone who is undecided on what they want to study.


If you are hoping to attend a selective school, you may want to apply to more colleges than the average student. It can be hard to predict these acceptances even if you have the grades and resume to make it happen. For someone that isn’t interested in selectivity, you may be able to apply to 3 or 4 schools that you feel confident about. 

At the end of the day, the number of schools you apply to is completely up to you. We recommend making an appointment with your school counselor who will help you form your college list based off your specific needs and desires.