What is the optimal amount of schools to apply?

With college admissions, nothing is guaranteed. But is it necessary to apply to 30+ schools like some students do? The answer is no.

Some students intend to apply to more universities than others, but the general rule of thumb is to have a roughly “bell curve” shaped distribution of schools based on your likelihood of acceptance.

Ideal Distribution of Schools to Apply

To optimize your strategy for school selection, a good step by step process to think through which schools you should apply to is as follows:

  1. Make a list of 10-15 schools. Be sure to think about whether or not you genuinely see yourself attending each college. These four years are very formative for your development. If you do not believe you will fit into the culture at each potential school you may attend, it may be difficult to get through those four years.

  2. Set 3 tiers of colleges: High Reach, Reach, and Safety

  3. Next, we will fill each bucket. Analyze your personal profile of SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and extracurriculars.

  4. Which schools are high reach schools that you have low probability of admission compared to historical data? Obviously, for any candidate, schools with very low admissions rates such as Stanford University should be categorized as a high reach for everyone. For the schools that qualify under this criteria, place them into the “High Reach” category.

  5. Which schools do you have a shot at being accepted, but may also have a probability of rejection? For all schools that qualify under this criteria, place them into the “Reach” category.

  6. The rest of the schools on the list should be universities you believe you have almost certainty of being accepted. Place these colleges in the “Safety” bucket.

  7. Take a step back and look at your list. Your ideal distribution of schools should be roughly 60% in the “Reach” category, 20% in the “High Reach” category, and 20% in the “Safety” category. If not, take another hard look at colleges you see yourself attending, and amend your list starting from step two.