How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

Each college application is a potential opportunity for your educational future. It’s tempting to apply to a large number of schools to give yourself plenty of options, but as college application costs continue to rise, how many applications is too many?


At Empowerly we recommend a medium risk approach. While you should have a secure number of safety schools, you shouldn’t limit your options when applying to colleges.


Low Risk Medium Risk High Risk
30% safety schools 33% safety schools 20% safety schools
40% target schools 33% target schools 30% target schools
30% reach schools 33% reach schools 50% reach schools

You should aim to apply to around 10-15 schools. A medium risk college applications package should include around 4 safety schools, 4 target schools and 4 reach schools. Any fewer, and you risk not being admitted to a best-fit school. Any more, and you may not have the time to appropriately tailor each application as needed. Once you place schools as safety, target and reach, you can refine your application choices based on which schools are a fit for your interests and extracurricular activities.


Online tools are essential to better understand colleges and categorize them as safety, target and reach schools. By better understanding the admissions data of a college, you rank yourself as highly likely to be admitted (a safety school), somewhat likely to be admitted (a target school), or somewhat unlikely to be admitted (a reach school). You should rank your schools as safety, target and reach schools according to how your overall academic performance compares to school admissions data. This includes GPA, class rankings, and standardized test scores such as the SAT and ACT.


  • Safety schools: Your grades, SAT/ACT scores and overall college applications package exceed the average accepted student data for the college. You can reasonably anticipate that you are likely to be accepted to most of your safety schools. Keep in mind you should only select safety schools you would like to attend.
  • Target (match) schools: Your overall applications package is in line with average accepted student data for the college. It’s likely you will be accepted to some of your target schools.
  • Reach schoolsYour grades and test scores are on the low end or lower than the average accepted student scores, but close enough that you may have a chance at acceptance. Additionally, the most selective colleges should always be considered reach schools regardless of academic profile. For example, Harvard has an acceptance rate of 6%, which means you have a low chance of admissions regardless of your application.

While the medium risk approach has been successful for Empowerly’s students, with admissions rates over 3 times the national average, an essential part of each student’s success is personalizing their plan. A target school for one person might be a reach or safety school for another person, and vice versa. The most successful college application strategy includes understanding your application package in relation to college acceptance data and considering a range of schools. As a result, you will position yourself for acceptance to your best fit college.


Want more information on what schools might be the best fit for you? Schedule a free consultation.


Questions? Let us know!