Building the College List ~ Part One

The college list is like a piece of art, a work in progress, constantly modified throughout the college search and beyond. While some high school counselors draft a preliminary list for juniors, most students will be on their own to begin, and then continuously develop, their own list of schools.

'reach'  'target'  'safety'

It is important to maintain a realistic attitude when researching colleges. All students should aim to have a handful of each type of school: "reach, target, safety." Because the final list will have this variety is terms of selectivity, the preliminary list should also include colleges across a spectrum. 

This is the first in a three-part series detailing how to explore colleges in order to generate a strategic and sensible college list that best fits the student.

ESSENTIAL FACTORS:  Some of the essential factors for selecting colleges are location, size, academic majors, campus life, and of course, the student's current academic record. 

Location – how far from home do you really want to go? If you’ve had enough of northern winters, do you want to spend the next four years in sunnier climes?  

Size - do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?  If you're in a small high school and want the feel of a lot more people around you, consider visiting some of the larger universities (at least 25,000 undergrads), but also visit colleges with 10 to 12,000 undergrads in order to compare. If you're in a large public high school and prefer smaller classes and greater access to professors, consider visiting smaller colleges (4,000 undergrads or fewer).

Academics - If you have some idea of what you'd like to study, checking the list of majors and minors is important. Many universities will have schools specific to areas of study (business, education, communications, engineering, etc.). If you have no idea whatsoever what to major in, review the majors at the liberal arts colleges.

[Part Two of this series will cover the specific criteria with which to gauge academic majors and minors as well as the quality of academic programs]

Campus Life - how do you envision your social life at college? Do you want to be part of the cheering crowds at the football game, or do you prefer hanging out with smaller groups of friends?  As you research college websites, spend time on the student clubs/organizations pages and read about the level of engagement.

College Search Resources –  Below are a few websites to help with the initial search.

  • bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  • niche.com
  • cappex.com
  • unigo.com