How To Build Your College List

March 10th, 2020

Building your college list can be confusing. You may be eager to put down colleges that your friends go to or that have great sports teams. You may ask for suggestions from friends or other people you trust. However, without knowing much about what you want in a college, those might not be the best way to build your college list.
College is a huge investment. You must find a “best fit” college for you in order to get the greatest return on your investment. The best way to find your “best fit” college is to do your research and create a college list with universities that fit your priorities. These four steps will help you build your college list.
1. Determine what you want from your college
When considering your preferences, be honest about what is important to you. You want a college that’s the best fit for you. Students should think about location, location type,  enrollment size, majors and programs, the people on campus, opportunities outside of the classroom, study abroad opportunities, cost and selectivity.
    • Location – Where are the locations you would want to live in if you could choose? How far do you want to be from home? Do you want mild weather or all four seasons? Is there a location you would want to be in for your career after college?
    • Location type – Where do you feel most comfortable in rural, urban, suburban location? Do you want a change from what you a use to?
    • Cost – What’s the maximum cost you are willing to incur during your four years at college?
    • Major – What do you want to major in? Is there a university that excels in that major?
    • Study abroad – Do you want to experience college life in another country?
    • Extracurricular activities – Is there a specific extracurricular activity that you want to be involved in?
    • Student population size – What is your ideal school size and class size? Have you dreamed of going to a large campus or would you enjoy a more individualized education?
    • Other things you want or need – Is the school selective? How valuable will your degree be once you graduate? Will you be going to graduate school directly after college?
2. Create a list of your top 20-30 colleges
After you have thought through the things that are important to you, you can start doing research. You will begin by creating a long list of schools that meet your criteria. Let your preferences determine if a college is a good fit for you.
Princeton Review has a tool to help you search for colleges that “best fit” for you. You can find their college search tool here.  
3. Narrow down your college list to 10-15 colleges
Now that you have your top 20-30 colleges, start researching each college on your list. As you research you will Eliminate those schools that fall short. You must dive into college catalogs and websites. When possible visit campuses and meet with college representatives. Talk with current or former students about these colleges. Take detailed notes and keep editing down your college list as you discover more information.
Here are some ways to learn more about colleges:
    • Watch videos from their YouTube channel
    • View college websites and catalogs
    • Sign up to receive emails and more information from the colleges
    • Attend college webinars
    • Contact admissions officers and ask questions
    • Visit colleges campuses using virtual tours
    • Talk to current and former students
4. Making your college shortlist of 6-10 colleges
Finally on the last step, building a college shortlist. This step is crucial for you as you try to find the perfect college fit. By now you have a good idea of what areas of study you’re interested in and what size of school you would like to attend. I There is no magic number of colleges you should apply to, but the majority of experts suggest between six and ten colleges.
We recommend students apply to a few types of colleges:
    • 1-3 Reach schools – A Reach school is a school you have a low chance of getting accepted, but you still meet academic thresholds. In most cases, you should apply Early Decision/Early Action for your reach schools.
    • 4+ Match schools – A match school is a school you have a fairly reasonable chance at getting in.
    • 1-2 Likely schools – A likely school is a college that you will almost certainly be admitted. You will want to pick two colleges that you have a very good shot at getting into — where your standardized test scores and GPA are above the 80th percentile for students admitted in previous years. Do not pick a likely school just to check this off your list. You need to focus some time to find a college that you truly like and can envision yourself attending in the future.
If you are having a hard time determining what category a college is for you, request your college probabilities from University Connection – you will receive up to three schools for free. Our experts will sift through your information and provide you the most accurate probability modeling within three business days.
Your college list is going to continue changing, and that is okay. Do your research so that you will find the colleges that feel right for you.