Building Your College List

Starting to build your college list can be very confusing. How do you know what colleges should go on the list? How many colleges should be on your list? Many students will create a list of colleges based on their name recognition. I highly discourage this because although the college name may be recognizable, it may not be a good fit for you.

So, how do you compile a good college list for you? I’ve come up with a list of things to do that will help you compile a college list that is just for you.

1.Get to know yourself.

That’s right, you need to know what you’re looking for in a college. You need to think about what you want in a college. Some key factors to consider include:

What locations are you willing to consider? Are you open to anywhere in the country? Or, are there only specific states that you’d consider? Or, do you only want to be a certain amount of miles from your home?

Location Type
Do you want a college that is in an urban, suburban or rural setting?

What majors are you considering? If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, are their subjects that you lean towards? If there are multiple areas of interest, I encourage students to find colleges that offer all of the areas you are interested in studying.

Extracurricular Activities
Are there specific extracurricular activities that are important to you and you want to participate in at college?

Do you want to be a college athlete and compete competitively for the college? What division do you want to consider? NCAA Division 1, Division 2, or Division 3? What about NAIA? If you don’t want to participate competitively, do you want to play in a specific intramural sport?

Religiously Affiliated
Do you want to attend a religiously affiliated college? Or, do you want to stay away from religiously affiliated colleges? Or, you don’t mind either way?

Student Population Size
Do you want to go to a college that is the size of your high school? Or, do you want to attend a college that is the size of a city? Or, somewhere in the middle?

Take time and think about your preferences. College is at least four years of your life and you want to make sure that you make the right choice the first time around.

2. Compiling the BIG List.

After you get to know yourself and what you’re looking for in a college, you can start doing your initial research. This list can be quite large depending on your preferences, and that is okay. There are a few good tools when creating the first draft of your list:

College Counselors

Talk to your high school guidance counselor and/or an independent college counselor. College counselors have a lot of knowledge about colleges and can provide recommendations.

College Search Websites

There are many websites available that allow you to plug in your preferences and then you will get a list of colleges that meet your criteria.

3. Research

Now that you have your list, start researching the colleges on your list. As you start researching, you’ll find things that make you like the colleges more. And, sometimes, you’ll find things that make you dislike the college. Take notes and keep editing your college list as you discover more information.

  • Review college websites.
  • Sign up to receive more information from the colleges.
  • Attend college fairs and talk to admissions representatives from the colleges on your list.
  • Attend the college presentations of the colleges on your list.
  • Contact the Admissions Representatives from the colleges and ask questions.
  • Visit college campuses – this will be a very important step because I recommend that students follows their gut feeling when on the campus. Sometimes you’ll love the campus, and other times, it just won’t feel right. Follow these feelings.
  • Talk to current students about their thoughts on the colleges. This can happen on college visits. You can also contact the Admissions Office to get you in touch with a student or follow the college on Facebook or Twitter and find current students there. Currents students won’t be selling the college like someone in Admissions will be doing. Current students will tell you the truth – good and bad – about the college.
  • Review the cost of attendance at each college, as well as the net price calculator. The price tag for a college can seem very high.  However, don’t rule out a school at first because of the price.  There is a lot of financial aid available.  I encourage you to fill out the net price calculator for many of the colleges you are considering.  After providing academic and financial information, the net price calculator at each school should be able to give you estimates of the financial aid you would receive if you attending that particular college.

4. Keep Reviewing and Changing Your List

As you learn more and more about colleges on your list, make changes to your list until you can narrow it down to approximately six to ten colleges. These will be the colleges that you will apply for admission. I recommend that students have a few types of colleges on their list:

  • 1 Reach School – A reach school is one that you have a chance of being admitted, but something in your profile might be a bit off of the colleges averages, such as test scores. You don’t have to apply to a reach school, but if there is one that you really like, go for it.
  • At Least 4 Match Schools – A match school is a college that you are pretty likely to be admitted.
  • At least 1 Safety School – A safety school is a college that you will almost certainly be admitted. Safety schools are important because college admissions is something that can change from year-to-year and can be very subjective. The safety school should be one that you would consider. Don’t just pick any safety school when it comes time to applying just because college counselors recommend it. Really look into the safety schools to make sure it is one that you would enjoy.

Remember, your list is going to continue changing, and that is okay. You want to make sure that you thoroughly research all of the colleges on your list because you want to find the right fit for you. Remember: what might be a perfect fit for your best friend, may not be a good fit for you. Therefore, do your research – you won’t regret it!

If you have any questions about building a college list, please contact me. I would be happy to hear from you!

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