When applying to college, there’s no mathematical equation to answer the question of how many colleges should you apply to. Instead, there are a number of factors to consider, including finding the right safety schools, target schools, and reach schools (more on these in a minute)—as well as the schools that offer the degree you want to pursue.
Safety schools are schools where it's basically a sure thing that you'll get in. How can you be sure? The idea is that if your GPA and test scores are significantly higher than the school's requirements, it's considered a pretty safe bet you'll be accepted. You may also look for colleges with high acceptance rates to increase the overall probability from a mathematical perspective.
Target schools are the ones you're really picturing yourself at, realistically. Your scores and credentials are in line with the types of students they accept, or maybe they have a history of accepting students from your high school. But, hey, if it doesn't work out, that's what the safety schools are for.
Finally, reach schools are ones that might be a stretch for you to get into. The students these colleges tend to accept perform better academically than you. But maybe you are particularly gifted, like an athlete or musician, or have some other accomplishments that make you stand out. Then, by all means, reach for the stars!
According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, 29% of students applied to seven or more colleges in 2011, up from only 9% in 1990.
How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?
Only you can decide how many colleges you should apply to based on conversations with your parents and your counselor. Most important is finding the right number of schools to apply to where you feel comfortable getting into multiple schools without stressing yourself out and spreading yourself too thin.
For instance, many people suggest that students apply to between five and eight colleges. This typically includes:
- One to two safety schools
- Two or three target schools
- One or two reach schools
However, this is not the perfect solution for all students. Be sure to consider your own goals, expectations, and academic record when deciding how many—and which—colleges you should apply to.
How to Decide What Schools to Apply to
As you answer how many colleges should you apply to, you will have some tough decisions to make. One way to help narrow your search is to go for campus visits or even virtual visits to get a better feel for each of the schools on your initial list. This should help you decide where you may be a good fit.
Based on the various schools’ admissions requirements, you’ll want to narrow your list into safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. One of the most important aspects when applying to colleges is to not apply to more schools than you have time to adequately research, as this will hurt your changes of getting in anywhere.
Below is a short description of each of these steps to help answer how many colleges should you apply to.
Safety schools are schools that have flexible admissions requirements or requirements that a particular students feels completely comfortable exceeding. Therefore, each student will have a different definition of a safety school.
Either way, a safety school is one that you feel confident you’ll get in to, regardless of the specific admissions requirements.
Target schools are colleges that you would happily attend, even though it may not be your first choice. These are schools that you expect to get in to, based on various admissions requirements, and ones that you think will fulfill your goals and desires.
When deciding how many colleges should you apply to, reach schools are often considered your favorite schools. However, for one reason or another, these are colleges that may not accept you.
This may mean that your academic record falls short of the average accepted for the school or that the competition is high for that school. You should have one or two reach schools on your list of college applications. One option is to apply to your reach schools during early decision or early action, when admissions requirements may be lower.
Good Safety Schools
Below is a list of some good safety schools with a short description of each school and some of the degrees offered, which should help you answer the question of how many colleges should you apply to. Some of the schools have a high acceptance rate and other schools have no minimum GPA requirement.
While the schools listed below offer a good starting point and should help answer the question of how many schools you should apply to, be sure to check with each school for admissions requirements.
1. Kaplan University
Acceptance Rate: 97%
Kaplan University has been educating students for 75 years with an average class size of 15 and 21 for graduate and undergraduate programs, respectively. At Kaplan, you can explore over 180 degree options to study what you want.
Some of the degrees offered at Kaplan University include:
- Criminal Justice
- Healthcare Administration
- Accelerated BSN to MSN
- Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance
- Master of Science (MS) in Health Education
2. Ashford University
Acceptance Rate: 90%
With an innovative online learning experience, Ashford University allows your college education to come to you. Their mission is to provide accessible, affordable, innovative, and high-quality learning opportunities to students.
Ashford offers associates, bachelors, and masters degrees. Some of the degrees offered at Ashford include:
- Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting
- BA in Instructional Design
- BA in Journalism and Mass Communication
- MA in Healthcare Administration
- MA in Teaching and Learning With Technology
3. Everglades University
Acceptance Rate: 86%
Everglades University is an accredited, non-for-profit, private university designed to prepare students to advance in their current or future fields of study. Offering bachelors and master's degrees, Everglades combines small class sizes, convenient scheduling, and innovative degrees to offer students a variety of options.
Some of the degrees at Everglades University include:
- Construction Management
- Crisis and Disaster Management
- International Business
- Aviation Science
- Public Health Administration
4. South University
Acceptance Rate: 80%
As a private educational institution with more than a century of academic excellence, South University offers associates, bachelor's, masters, and doctoral degrees, as well as certificate programs. South University is dedicated to providing a comprehensive education for their students.
Some of the degrees at South University include:
- Nursing – RN to BSN
- MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner
- MSN – Nurse Educator
- RN to MSN – Nursing Informatics
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
5. Virginia Tech
Acceptance Rate: 73%
Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech remains true to its mission of discovery and dissemination of new knowledge. To this day, VT stands on the cornerstones of quality, service, and innovation.
Virginia Tech offers a number of degrees, including:
- Aerospace Engineering
- Creative Writing
- Graphic Design
- Political Science
6. St. Leo University
Acceptance Rate: 72%
As a school and as a community, St. Leo University is devoted to creating and contributing to a more socially just society. Founded in 1889, St. Leo attracts students from 49 states and 86 countries.
Some of the masters degrees offered at St. Leo University include:
- MA in Creative Writing
- Master of Education (MEd): Educational Leadership
- Master of Education (MEd): Exceptional Student Education
- Master of Education (MEd): Instructional Leadership
- MS in Instructional Design
7. University of Delaware
Acceptance Rate: 67%
Priding itself on being at the forefront of research and innovation, the University of Delaware has a long tradition of excellence. Designed to push boundaries and to help students grow, UD offers a wide variety of degrees and experiences to its students.
Some of the majors available at the University of Delaware are:
- Art History
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Science
- Early Childhood Education
8. University of Illinois
Acceptance Rate: 66%
The University of Illinois is focused on innovation, quality, superior instruction, service, and accessibility. All of the curriculum at UI is designed by the world-class faculty at the school who are all leaders in their fields of study.
The University of Illinois offers a number of degrees, including:
- Computer Engineering
- Elementary Education
- Graphic Design
- Hospitality Management
9. Grand Canyon University
Acceptance Rate: 58%
For 65 years, Grand Canyon University has been providing students the education they need to get ahead. The school strives to educate the leaders of tomorrow, but more importantly, help students develop empathy and global citizenship.
Some of the degrees offered at Grand Canyon University include:
- Nursing – RN to BSN
- MA in Curriculum and Instruction
- MA in History with Emphasis in Education
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- MEd in Early Childhood Education
When Should You Apply to College
If you are a traditional student, the best time to apply to college is from October to January of your senior year of high school. If you are a nontraditional student, the best time to apply may depend on the application deadlines of each of your favorite schools.
Keep in mind that each school has their own application deadlines and some even have rolling admissions, which is more common for online schools. Therefore, keep a list of all relevant deadlines, including early decision and early action-plan deadlines.
Before narrowing your list and answering how many colleges should you apply to, be sure to check with the admissions requirements of each school and confirm that each school has your desired degree.
Take the Next Step
As you answer how many colleges should you apply to, click on any of the sponsored listings on this page, including those mentioned in the list above.
There, you’ll find a brief description of each school and some of the degrees offered. You can also find out how to contact the school directly. You can even learn how to apply to college today.