Laptop, notebook and pen, coffee, headphones, and letter board on white table

Finalize Your College List With These 7 Expert Tips

How do you know when your list of colleges to apply to is final, complete, done? These seven expert tips will help you figure it out.

You’ve decided between small colleges and big colleges. Between colleges in the city and colleges in the country. But how do you know when your list of colleges to apply to is final, complete, 100% done?

We asked experts who specialize in helping students apply to college. Below you’ll find their seven signs you can be confident with your final college list. 

1. Don’t worry about a “magic number.”

You’ve probably heard that you need to apply to X safety schools, X dream schools, and X schools that are a perfect match. That’s not necessarily true. Your college list is set “when you feel comfortable and confident that each school fits your criteria,” says Mark Montgomery of Great College Advice. Maybe that means you’re applying to six colleges. Or 10. Or two. That being said…

2. Can you reasonably expect to get into the colleges and universities on your list?

Compare your grades and test scores with the most recent average admitted student’s stats. If your numbers fall into that range, it’s a good sign the school belongs on your final list.

3. Would you be excited about going to your safety schools?

Of course you’d be ecstatic about going to your dream college. But think about your safety school (or schools). Do they have everything you’re looking for? Would you be proud to wear that hoodie? If you said “yes,” Montgomery says that’s a sign you have a final college list you can feel good about.

4. Do you feel comfortable at all the schools you’re applying to?

Think about how you learn best, advises Stuart Nachbar, college counselor with Educated Quest. Maybe you need small classes or think most clearly when you’re out in nature. Each college you apply to should have whatever will help you be most successful.

5. Would you find your niche at each school?

Think about how you felt when visiting campus. Could you find the quirky, musically inclined, fitness-minded, or politically active crowd of students you want to be around? That’s important because college is about so much more than going to class. “It’s hard to succeed in college when you don’t make friends,” Nachbar says. “When you get a degree, you should have a network that will help you for the rest of your life.”

6. Do all of the colleges have what you want?

What are you hoping to get out of college? A top-quality finance degree and the chance to be recruited by Fortune 500 companies? Connection with a strong faith-based community? Preparation for medical school? Clarity on exactly what your major should even be? Nachbar stresses that each college on your list needs to be able to help you reach your specific goals.

7. Remember that life happens!

A volunteer experience might awaken an interest in a totally new major, a torn ACL might keep you from running track, or a sick family member might make you rethink traveling 3,000 miles away for college. In any case, don’t be afraid to tweak your final college list. “The reality is that things can change at any time,” Montgomery says. If that’s the case, it’s fine to add or subtract from your list. Just make sure you’re applying to colleges that fit the criteria above and will help you reach your goals.

If you’ve already applied to your colleges and universities and are wondering how to choose between your acceptances, you can find helpful tips here. (And if you’re still trying to find the perfect colleges, start here.)

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Anthony Vidal

Anthony Vidal

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress has helped me in a series of different ways when it comes to finding scholarships and learning information about different universities. I actually found my dream university through CollegeXpress and am working on getting there.

Tinuola Dada

Tinuola Dada

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2015

I am very excited to be this year's recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship. This scholarship will bring me ever closer to my academic and professional goals. CollegeXpress has been an exceptional resource to me, and I recommend it to all rising seniors as they begin to navigate the college application process.

Rana Slosberg

Rana Slosberg

Slosberg College Solutions LLC

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is the 800+ lists which have all kinds of hard-to-find information. These lists are helpful when I’m creating college lists, and I also use them to give students a feel for a particular college or university.

Heather McCarty

Heather McCarty

High School Class of 2020

CollegeXpress has helped me with the college application process. The tips and tricks for important essays were so helpful. I also gained useful knowledge about college life. Even though I’m fully online, CollegeXpress has helped me develop a sense of how college is in person. The experiences from college students that were featured on their Instagram page have shown the good, the bad, and the “secret” life on campus from a reliable perspective. Not to mention, they relieved my feelings of anxiety about the workload. I can now understand how it can be stressful, but it takes self-control and willpower to get assignments completed on time and with quality.

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.

College Matches