University of Virginia

How many colleges should I apply to?


Does that surprise you?  It’s tongue in cheek.  There is no correct numerical answer to this question, but there is a correct way to figure out the answer that works for you.

Two caveats up front:  First, do not apply to any schools that you absolutely will not go to;  even if they were they only school that admitted you, you would still not go.  Don’t waste their time or yours just because someone else wants you to include that college.  If that’s one of your parents, this is a great chance to have a level-headed discussion with your mom and dad.

Second, do not apply to any school that you cannot pay for.  If you don’t know what you can pay for, this is time to talk to your parents about that.  If you or your parents get stuck here, we can help, drop us an email

So how many schools should you apply to?  Start with at least two or three schools that will likely admit you.  You can determine this by looking at the 75th percentile of the SATs and GPA for last year’s freshman class which you can find on or College Navigator.  Be realistic about where you stand and if you need to set your sights lower, do it.

Next, include at least one or two schools that you would like to go to, but you don’t think you are a shoo-in for.  These are your reach schools.  If you have a low probability but really like the school, go ahead and apply, but (1) please don’t get your heart set on attending and (2) don’t expect much in the way of financial aid.

Finally, round out your group with two or three ‘other’ schools, ones that you like, ones that you are more in than out admissions-wise.  If most of your other college choices are public schools, add one or two private schools here.  You might be surprised by the aid you receive, and unless you are certain about the type of college you want to attend, it can be nice to have a choice of types when you have to make the final decision.

The old advice about dividing schools into groups for applications makes sense.  But make those groups thoughtfully, and you’ll be happier with the results.

Seniors often wonder if Early Action is a good way to apply?  Look at your transcript and current test scores.  If those put your best foot forward, by all means use Early Action.  You’ll get a notification from the college early on, and your spring semester will be less stressful.  You’ll have more time for follow-up visits.  But you won’t get financial aid awards any earlier;  those will still come in the spring.


Longwood University has an interesting twist on Early Action called Immediate Decision.  Students who qualify can attend a weekday information session and tour through December 2 and Longwood will let you know your status when you finish your tour.  That’s immediate!