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When crafting a college list, parents and teachers will often suggest a certain limit, but in reality, there is no “magic number” of schools you should target. Ultimately, the process is limited by the finite amount of time you have to complete the applications. You only have so many hours to write, edit, and rewrite supplemental essays, fill out never-ending boxes of information, and craft individual responses to those short answer questions each school adds to their applications-all while maintaining your GPA and getting enough sleep.

Given the constraints on your time, we thought it helpful to provide a guide for prioritizing and finalizing the schools on your college list.

Your final college list should consist of:

  • at least two “safety schools.” These are schools where you are all but guaranteed acceptance based on your grades, test scores, and coursework.
  • at least two “target schools,” or schools that are likely to accept you based on your background and credentials, but are not necessarily a given.
  • at least two “reach schools.” Reach schools are often the same as your dream schools: if admitted, you would accept in a heartbeat. But the acceptance rate is such that you simply cannot predict the outcome.

As someone who applied to 17 schools (or perhaps it was 18), this writer cannot in good conscience advise you to keep your college list at or under a certain number. The process becomes stressful and some of us prefer to stack the odds in our favor, while others find their endpoint earlier. However, you have a limited amount of time and energy to put into your applications, so make them count. Keep the quality of writing high and ensure your responses remain thoughtful, remembering to always present your best self to your schools of choice.