The College Search

How Many Colleges is Too Many?

Question: I am applying to four safeties, three targets, and five or six reaches. My counselor doesn't want me to apply to that many reaches, but they are all schools I've wanted to apply to for a long time. Are thirteen colleges too many?

Thirteen colleges does seem like a lot, but one thing you didn't tell us is whether financial aid--either need-based or merit-based--will be important to you and your family. If so, in spite of the hefty application fees you'll be paying, sometimes seemingly similar schools can offer strikingly different aid awards, and you may benefit from casting a wide net. Otherwise, not only is your list rather top-heavy with reach colleges, but it also seems weighty with safeties. If a school is truly safe for you, then one or two should suffice.


If your counselor is urging you to limit the number of reach colleges on your list, it may be that he or she is trying to warn you politely that some--or all--of your reach schools are really "out of reach" schools. It's tough to tell a student to give up on a dream school, but some candidates are unrealistic when aiming for elite colleges where they have no chance of admission. Perhaps that's what's happening in your case.

We recently found an interesting report by a high school guidance counselor. He noted that he'd compiled statistics on college admissions at his school and discovered that the students who applied to fewer colleges were accepted at a higher percentage of them than those who filed numerous applications. This was probably due to two factors. First, the students who applied to fewer schools may have put more time into each application. And, secondly, those who aimed for fewer places could have been more judicious in eliminating colleges from their list that were clearly not going to admit them.

So, before you fork over tons of dough for your application fees, rethink your final list and ask yourself if you're really making sensible choices and if you've made your best effort on your essays and other application components. But who knows ... for you, thirteen may be a lucky number.