8 answers

How did you decide how many colleges to apply to?

Asked Sacramento, California

For professionals who have already gone to college: I'm coming up on 11th grade and I'm supposed to start researching colleges. I'm just wondering how you decided how many colleges to apply to when you were in high school? I looked at the applications and they look like they can take a long time to write, so that's why I'm asking. Thank you for your help!!! :) #college #college-selection #college-applications

8 answers

Lisa’s Answer

Updated Omaha, Nebraska


I applied to 3 colleges during high school. I looked at distance, availability of scholarships in my field, application fees, and cost of education of those schools.

I recommend visiting campuses first before applying if possible, because if you don't like the feel of the campus then it just seems like a waste of money to apply somewhere that you know you won't attend.

Hope this helps!

Timothy’s Answer

Updated California, California

Hi Tanaia,

I applied to 7 colleges when I was in high school. Most of the time, for private schools/out of state schools, you can send in the same application through the Common App. In the Common App, you basically just fill out your extra-curricular activities, volunteer experience, and an essay about yourself. Certain schools may ask you to answer additional supplemental questions with the Common App. I remember one supplemental question for Stanford was: Write a letter to your future roommate to introduce yourself. So once you fill out the main portion of the Common App, the supplemental questions for each school will take you a little longer depending on how many schools you apply to.

The University of California (UC) system has their own application system but it is very similar to the Common App. I found out that I could reuse my essay from the Common App and apply it to my UC apps. After completing the UC app, you simply just check which UC schools you want it sent to (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego etc). So you just need to fill out 1 app for any of the UC schools. Keep in mind, there is a fee for every application you send out which could range from $70-100 each.

I think 6-8 colleges is a good number to apply to and seemed to be about the average for my classmates. I suggest taking college visits/tours of colleges that interest you. See which schools fit you in terms of the school culture and academics. Don't be afraid to take chances and apply to colleges that might seem to be a reach for you. I personally never expected to get into Stanford but thankfully my dad convinced me to apply. The whole application process took me a few months to complete, which included writing my essays and getting people to proofread it so give yourself enough time so you don't feel rushed.

Hope this helps!

Kevin’s Answer

Updated Tempe, Arizona

Hi Tanaia,

This will be a big decision so what i would suggest is to sit down for an hour and just jot down what are the key factors in your college choice and rank them in order of preference. I agree with what my colleagues have mentioned above. If you think location is your #1 choice, then you can quickly narrow down. Also, doing some quick research on top schools for your major/interest will help. As Chris mentioned, have a few that are your stretch, target and safe schools so you don't stretch yourself too thin. I would say you would focus on no more than 6 - 7 max as anymore will be tough for you to handle.

Good luck!


Ursula’s Answer

Updated Woodbridge, Virginia
Hi Tania, There are a couple of things that may help with your decision of how many colleges to apply to. 1) Go to college fairs - It gives you an opportunity to learn what the colleges have to offer, In addition, they often provide applications and waive or reduce the application fee. 2) There are certain times of the year that you can apply for college with no application fee. 3) There are some schools that wave the application fee if you fill out your application on line. 4) There are a number state colleges that waive the application fee for in-state applications Good luck.

Kristie’s Answer

Updated Omaha, Nebraska

I would recommend narrowing your search to the colleges you really want to attend. Location is a definite factor, do you want to be far or close to home? Then think about what you want to major in and find the colleges that specialize in those areas. The application process can be long, so narrowing your search will be helpful. I think it would be a good idea to sit down with your highschool counselor to discuss your options.

Rachel’s Answer


<span style="background-color: transparent;">Collegeboard.org is a great resource for this! I poured through the pages of universities all over the U.S. when I was a senior in high school. Collegeboard was my go-to site! They put all of the information in one place and it is very easy to use. They even have various filters you can apply to see only colleges that have programs you are interested. To determine academic rigor, look at the admissions requirements, G.P.A. of past admitted applicants, SAT/ACT scores, class rank etc. This will give you an idea of what scores and grades you need to be accepted. However, don't be discouraged your application will be reviewed based on the full picture! College-board will help you get an idea of what is most important to the specific school you are applying to.</span>

This professional recommends the following next steps:

  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Chat with your Guidance Counselor</span>
  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Create a Collegeboard.org account</span>
  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Start using CollegeBoard as a resource to look up schools.</span>

Malorie’s Answer

Updated Mountain View, California


Great question! I am not sure I can but an exact number on the amount of colleges to apply to, but I do know that the application fees can add up! I would recommend trying to visit the campuses you are interested in applying for first if you have the time and if they are not too far away. I would recommend at least applying to 2 and possibly limiting the number to 5. That would be my recommendation!

Chris’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

Hi Tanaia,

The way I decided which colleges I would apply to and how many I would apply to was mainly based off of my preference and a list of Reach, Target, and Safety schools (along with everything Kristie has mentioned above). By looking at the average SAT/ACT scores, GPAs, and extracurricular activities people who got accepted had, you can get a pretty good idea of which schools fall into which categories (reach, target, or safety). Because I went to high school in California, I knew that I wanted to go to a UC because the in-state tuition is a lot more affordable than a lot of private schools. This narrowed down my choices to the top UCs and helped me pick a few UCs as a safety. The UC application also was just one application when I applied, so that made it really easy to just pick them when I was deciding. Further, I know a lot of private schools just use the Common App, so that can make it easier to apply to certain private schools as well.

Hope this helped, and good luck on your future endeavors!

Regards, Chris

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