How Many US Colleges Should I Apply To?

The US college admissions process is a long one that spans many months during your junior and senior years of high school. One of the most important steps of this process is drafting a list of schools to apply to. This list is crucially important and will ultimately determine where you end up going to college. This list will also determine how many essays you have to complete during the fall semester of your senior year.

Preliminary List

At the very beginning of the college admissions process you should come up with a list of 15-20 schools. This list should be drafted with input from your parents, teachers, college counselors, and private tutors (if you have one).

Final List

Once your preliminary list is drafted you should do in-depth research on each school and begin to narrow down your list. If feasible, one of the best ways to learn about a college is by visiting the school and taking a tour with the admissions office. You should also do research on the majors offered, the different opportunities available at the college, and the college’s social environment. For more guidance find our article on How to Choose Which College is Best for You (forthcoming).

Reach vs. Safety Schools

Your final list of colleges should consist of approximately 7-10 colleges. To maximize your chances of getting into the best college possible you should apply to a diversity of schools. Generally speaking one third of the colleges should be so-called “safety schools.” These are schools that, based on your GPA, extracurriculars, and exam scores you should have no difficulty getting accepted to. Another one third of colleges should be those that generally match your GPA and qualifications. Finally, one third should be “reach” schools whose average GPA is generally slightly above yours. This method maximizes your chances of getting into the best college possible while ensuring that you will at least get accepted to one college.

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