Generally speaking, colleges don’t share admissions information with each other. The only way a college might figure out how many colleges you’re applying to is through your FAFSA, where you list each of the colleges you wish to receive a copy of your financial aid application.

The number of colleges listed on a student’s FAFSA is not a factor in deciding admissions

A scandal broke in 2013, when some colleges were accused of using this information to alter their admissions decisions. Since then, it has been widely agreed that colleges do not use the number or the order in which colleges were listed on the FAFSA when deciding whether to accept or reject a particular student.

Colleges expect students to apply to a healthy number of schools. In fact, over a quarter of college-bound students submitted seven or more applications in 2010.

Healthy is the key word. Will your chances of gaining admission to a top college increase if you apply to all of them? Theoretically, yes; however, every college application takes work (and may cost money). Overwhelming yourself with apps could cause their quality–and your bank account–to suffer.

More applications are being submitted

Another trend that has impacted college acceptance rates and the number of applications submitted is the The Common Application, which allows students to quickly and easily apply to a number of colleges through the use of one centralized application.

Charts showing than in 1995 only 10% of students applied to 7 or more colleges, now 29% of students do so.

While this may seem like a great tool for students, it means that more students apply to more schools, which are only able to accept a fixed number of students. In the end, this means that a smaller percentage of students are ultimately accepted, which may make it seem like applying to more colleges can hurt a student’s chances to enroll.

Unfortunately, this feeds the cycle. As colleges accept a smaller percentage of applicants, students feel pressure to apply to more colleges, to ensure that they are accepted.

Apply to a smart mix of colleges, not just more schools

Instead of sending out as many applications as humanly possible, make a plan and apply intelligently.

Most college counselors recommend submitting 6-8 college applications, but many students submit 12 or more.

From this group, it’s wise to build your list strategically:

  • 1-3 “reach” or “dream” schools, which appeal to you but are highly selective.
  • 3-4 “match” colleges, which will challenge you but tend to admit students near your academic level.
  • At least one “safety” college where you’re almost certain to be accepted