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It Depends, A College Counseling Blog Series: How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?


Editor’s Note: 

It Depends is a series from the Office of College Counseling, that aims to answer some common questions asked by students and families as they navigate the college search and application process, within the context of today’s world, with today’s technology.   

Check back monthly as Co-Director of College Counseling Keegan Ash poses frequently asked questions to Chat GBT and analyzes the responses, going deeper than the generic replies by reminding us, “it depends.” 


Welcome to It Depends, a blog series from the College Counseling Office.  

In each post, I will pose a question to ChatGPT about the college process and then respond and add perspective to the AI generated response. The goal is to provide the general content anyone could find on internet forums, or websites, or through AI, but to go one step further and add the expertise, experience, and perspective of an experienced counselor. 

AI content will be displayed in normal text, while my comments will be purple and bolded to distinguish between the two perspectives. 


Let's get started.  

Question: How many colleges should I apply to? 

The number of colleges you should apply to can vary depending on your individual circumstances and preferences. However, it is generally recommended to apply to a range of colleges to ensure you have options and increase your chances of admission. Here are some factors to consider when determining the number of colleges to apply to: 

1. **Balanced List:** Aim to create a balanced list of colleges that includes a mix of reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. Reach schools are those where admission may be more competitive and where your chances of acceptance may be lower. Target schools are those where you have a reasonable chance of admission based on your academic profile. Safety schools are those where you are likely to be admitted, often with lower admission requirements. 

Consider that this is risk assessment.  If a school is highly rejective, then that means there are limited spots.  Any application to a school with around a 30% acceptance rate and lower, will be a reach.  It is too risky to consider that a target or safety school.  I do like the “target” options here.  I don’t like the term “safety schools” because it is better to consider those applications as likely or low-risk.  If finances are an important factor, considering some schools that are more of a low-risk option may be worthwhile as you seek scholarships.  

2. **Diversity of Options:** Applying to multiple colleges allows you to have a range of options when it comes to academic programs, campus culture, location, and financial aid packages. Having choices gives you the opportunity to compare and select the college that best aligns with your goals and preferences. 

Location is the big one here!  Have a few options.  Even if your heart is set on going to school in Florida and you live in Pennsylvania, keep a Pennsylvania school or two on your list.  You’re keeping your options open down the road.  Don’t paint yourself into a corner now, when you’re making the decision in the spring.  You should also consider your major.  If you’re deciding between two majors or various majors it’s okay to have a couple of schools on your list that would be good fits for a specific major if you decide that’s what you want later on. 

3. **Admission Competitiveness:** Consider the level of competition for admission at the colleges you are interested in. If you are targeting highly selective colleges with low acceptance rates, it may be advisable to apply to more colleges to increase your chances of acceptance. On the other hand, if you have identified several colleges where you are a strong candidate, you may choose to apply to fewer institutions. 

We already covered this in the first answer… 

4. **Financial Considerations:** Applying to a range of colleges allows you to explore different financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Some colleges may offer more generous financial aid packages or scholarships, which can impact your final decision. Applying to a variety of institutions ensures that you have multiple options to consider in terms of affordability. 

We already covered this as well.  I don’t think we need to repeat it, but ChatGPT did… 

5. **Time and Resources:** Consider the time and effort required to complete college applications. Each application requires gathering information, writing essays, and possibly completing supplemental materials. Be realistic about how many applications you can manage while maintaining the quality of your submissions. 

Supplemental essays and application fees are the big ones here!  The time and the cost can really start to add up. Consider that as you’re building your list.  If there’s no fee and no supplemental essays, that makes it a relatively easy addition if it meets the criteria you’re looking for in a college.  

While there is no set number of colleges you should apply to, a common range is usually between 6 to 10 colleges. However, some students apply to fewer or more, depending on their individual circumstances. It's important to find the right balance that allows you to thoroughly research and apply to colleges that align with your goals and preferences without overwhelming yourself with an excessive number of applications. 

The average for Perkiomen students is typically around 10 applications.  However, that average does include our committed athletes who apply to one school.  I think when a student approaches 12 schools, the problem gets more complicated on the back end when it is time to make the choice.  Also, consider that Common App will only allow you to submit 20 applications. 

Ultimately, the key is to apply to a mix of colleges that you are genuinely interested in and that provide a range of options in terms of selectivity, academic programs, campus culture, and financial considerations. 

Remember that it depends on your preferences and desires.  If you want to consider colleges in six different states, that could make your list a little bigger.  If you want to remain within an hour of your home, that will shorten your list.  If finances are a huge factor, that may expand the list a bit.  Talk to your counselor, build a list of amazing options that are a good fit.  Your list is your list and knowing you have a variety of options will enable you to apply with more confidence. 



. . . 

The college process is filled with nuances, and as the name of this blog series reiterates, a lot of this process comes down to context.  The answers to many questions will be “it depends.”   The College Counseling Office is here to give the best advice possible within that context.  Our student-centered approach is focused on meeting the needs of our students while keeping their goals in mind -- and celebrating them along the way.  

If you have additional questions, schedule a time to speak with your counselor.  You can use the links below to schedule a time. 

Mr. Ash: https://calendly.com/kash-perk

Ms. Davidson-Kellogg: https://calendly.com/perkiomen-collegecounseling-davidson-kellogg



College Counseling at Perkiomen School

Read more by the College Counseling Department


Check out the It Depends Podcast


'It depends' is meant to lead to further discussion. It is an opportunity for us as counselors to ask follow-up questions. It is a chance for us to gather more information about each child in this process. We are student-centered.  We know every student is unique and therefore every process will be unique.    - KEEGAN ASH, Co-Director of College Counseling