Ask a Nerd!

Question: How many colleges should I apply to and how do I know if the school is the right fit for me?

Brief: As an Orange County admissions consultant, I recommend applying to about ten colleges, looking at region, state and campus size as well as the program that you are looking for.


There is no doubt that applying to college will be one of the biggest decisions of your life. However, it can be a fun and (somewhat) low stress decision if you follow some basic guidelines.

1. Apply to about ten colleges or universities. At least five of these should be mid-range or target schools (meaning that you have a pretty good chance of getting in). Choose two or three dream schools (ones that you would absolutely LOVE to go to but are perhaps a bit of a reach based on your current grades and test scores). Also, pick two or three schools that you are pretty much 100% sure that you will get into.

2. Look at the states and regions of schools that you are applying to. Think about whether or not you love snowy weather, love to surf on the weekends, want to be around arts and culture in your free time, relish the urban lifestyle, or prefer the limited distractions and peace and quiet of a small town experience. For example, if city life makes you stressed out and homesick, then the urban colleges might not suit you. On the other hand, if you live for art museums, big sporting arenas, shopping and dining, then a small town college might not offer you what you are looking for (READ: “5 Things to do Before You Go Away to College“).


3. Campus culture and size can also play a big role in your decision. I was dead set on a ‘medium’ sized campus in a sunny state. This ruled out about half of the country’s schools and helped narrow down my decision. If you are planning to live on campus and won’t have access to private transportation, larger campuses often provide an amalgam of entertainment, food and study areas located conveniently on campus. Student’s who want to safely and securely wander off campus may find that smaller universities better suit their needs.

4. Let’s talk specifics. If you want arts, culture, and dining, schools in LA, San Francisco, New York and Chicago are popular choices. If you want culture but these cities seem too big, look at colleges near cities like Charlotte, Boston, or Phoenix. Schools that start with ‘University of…” or such and such “State University”. Are usually fairly large, while liberal arts and private colleges are often smaller in size. Look at the number of enrolled undergraduate students to get a feel for the size of the campus. If it reads “50,000”, then it’s a big campus and if it reads “3,000” then it’s pretty small.

5. Choose a university that offers the program(s) that you are thinking about. If you are thinking about majoring in either, business, literature, or biology, then it should be mandatory that any and all of your potential colleges offer all three of these subjects as a major field of study (READ: “8 Reasons Applicants Fail to Get Into the College of Their Choice“).

6. Visit the campus! It is really important to actually visit the campus before enrolling in school there. Website pictures can give you a general feel for the campus, but you will get a much more accurate feeling of what the next four years of your life will be like if you actually walk around the campus as well as the surrounding areas (CLICK: “Colleges with the Lowest Acceptance Rates“).

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