The first part of the process is narrowing down the list of colleges you want to apply to. Some high schools even impose a limit on the number of colleges you can apply to. We'd recommend separating your list into:
- Safety: colleges you're confident you can get into.
- Probable: colleges you think you have a pretty decent chance of getting into
- Dream / Reach: colleges that you would love to get into but it's highly unpredictable.
The application process is so unpredictable that you want to make sure you have stellar applications for each category. You may find that a college you thought was a safety turned out to actually only be probable. With dream schools, the process is often such a crapshoot and competitive that even very strong applicants can get rejected.
There are many colleges that aren't need-blind, so your chances of getting in do decrease if you require financial aid. Given that you have a limited amount of time, you should make sure you have a plausible route to paying for the colleges you're applying to. There are still other ways of paying for college like external scholarships (see Paying for College) but again, those are never guaranteed.