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How Long Should My College List Be?

By Thomas Bear

  • July 13, 2022
  • 2 min read


High school student works on his college list on a computer

Thomas Bear

Thomas Bear
Vice President of Enrollment Management
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

How long should my college list be?

Think quality over quantity.

We’re seeing an upward trend in college admissions with students applying to ten or fifteen schools — sometimes even more. While you’d think this would increase the odds of being accepted, the biggest driver for success is the make-up of your college list not the number of applications.

Balance your list with a mix of reach, match, and safety schools.

A reach school checks all the boxes. It’s your dream school. However, getting in is highly competitive when looking at grades, test scores, class rank, and your course load in high school. These colleges receive an overwhelming number of qualified applicants but admit less than 20-30% each year.

So, should you apply to one or two reach schools? Absolutely! Go for your dream. But balance your college list with match and safety schools, too.

In contrast, a safety school will likely offer you a spot because your academic credentials exceed its student profile. Colleges normally spotlight the student profile on the admissions page, or you can use a tool like College Navigator.

Beyond the likelihood you’ll get in, safety schools may also provide financial advantages like merit scholarships. To round out your college list, look for match schools. These are colleges with student profiles that match your own.

Remember, admission is never guaranteed at any school. There may be enrollment caps on certain programs, or other students showed a greater interest with the college. No matter what type of school you’re applying to, stand out however you can.

As you compile your college list, do plenty of research and visit as many campuses as possible. Most importantly, make sure you can see yourself at each college. A safety school should make you as happy as all the other schools.

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