Finalize Your College List With These 7 Expert Tips

Freelance Writer

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—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. (And if you’re still trying to find the perfect colleges, start here.)

  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. Are you going to community college? Then you’re set. Students go to community college for many reasons. Some want to spend two years or fewer training for a job. Some want to stay with their families. Some want to save money. Or all of the above. If you know community college is the best choice for you, be confident in your decision!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.

One more piece of advice: 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.

How many colleges and universities did you have on your final list to apply to? What do you think is too many schools (or too few, for that matter)? Leave a comment and let us know.

PS 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.

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