May   2019

Mon

06

How to Build the Perfect College List

by
CollegeXpress Student Writer

You may be an eighth grader who already has their dream college picked out, or you might be going into senior year and still have no clue what you’re doing in terms of college applications. Chances are, you’re probably somewhere in between.

In any case, making a college list is a good idea. It’s nice to keep your options open while still having a pretty good plan of what you’ll be doing come college application season.

Wherever you are in the college search process, here are some ideas and tips that may be able to help!

Making a college list should be fun

This is the most important tip: make sure you have the right mindset. Sometimes researching college feels like a task you have to do for school or something you need to do in order to be successful (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Think of making your college list as exploring your options, an adventure on the internet to find out where you might want to be in a few years.

And remember: relax. This isn’t something you need to cause yourself unnecessary stress about...don’t you have that history test next week for that?

When should you begin?

Many people say that “now” is a good time and “it’s never too early to start planning for college!

They aren’t wrong…but at the same time, it’s also never too late to look at schools either. For me, some of the colleges on my list were ones I decided I was going to apply to around freshman year. Others—two out of six, actually—I never even considered applying to until September and October of my senior year (a little more on that later).

Related: Start searching for schools on CollegeXpress

Keep your options open

As my marching band director likes to say, “The march is a living, breathing entity.”

For those of you musicians out there, your band or orchestra director has probably told you something along those lines as well, right? When it comes to the music, it isn’t just played over and over. Every rehearsal brings something new to the music: a crescendo here, a fortsando there. Maybe a new chord, or a fermata for additional drama.

Whether you understood my analogy or not, the same goes for your college list. Your list is never complete—it’s not something you write up then leave alone and can’t touch for years. Sure, it’s good to have a starting point, but the initial colleges you choose won’t necessarily be the ones you feel are right for you when you do end up applying. Of course, you’ll hear new names that you might want to look into...and if they seem right for you, it’s a good idea to put them on the list.

Tip: Don’t just delete all of your research that you did on a school. You might want it later!

Related: How to Stay Organized in Your College Search

Love it, definitely, maybe, probably not…

That’s not quite the saying, but I would suggest having three different categories on your list: Definitely, Maybe, and Probably Not. Don’t be shy to shift schools between the three categories! Especially if your list is typed, all you need to do is copy and paste your information in a different category. These categories are pretty self-explanatory, but here are my short little qualifications for each:

Definitely

This school checks most (or all!) of your boxes; as of right now, they are one of your top choices. (I would keep about four to eight schools in this category, though it’s totally up to you!)

Maybe

This school checks most of your boxes, but you’re not entirely sure how much you would love it. (Tip: If you haven’t already, you should try to visit these schools in person to get a better feel!) Once the time comes, you might apply, but you might not.

Probably not

This school checks some of your boxes, and you’re not sure you’d really want to go here. You probably won’t apply, but you might change your mind. (I put schools that I wouldn’t put anywhere else on the list in this category.)

Tip: All the schools you ultimately apply to should be ones that you’d be happy to attend if you get accepted! So if you could never see yourself happy there—even as a safety school/backup plan—leave it off your list entirely.

Related: How to Pick Your Safety, Reach, and Match Colleges

What should you include on your list?

Universities and colleges, of course!

I kept basic information on the list so I had a quick facts sheet (you can normally just copy and paste from the college’s admission page or the College Board or CollegeXpress profile).

Here is the template that I used for all of my college searching:

Name:

Website:

Admission website:

Acceptance rate:

Fees:

  • Tuition:
  • Room and board:
  • Books and supplies:
  • Other:

Mascot and colors:

Possible majors (since the names vary between schools):

Regular application deadline:

Early Action deadline: (Sometimes N/A)

Application fee:

Application requirements: (Note whether the school uses the Common App, Coalition App, or a different application entirely; some schools may accept multiple.)

High school GPA: (Average scores of admitted students)

SAT/ ACT: (Average scores of admitted students)

Population:

  • Number of undergraduates:
  • Number of freshmen:
  • Gender breakdown: (If it matters to you)
  • Racial breakdown: (If it matters to you)

Class sizes:

Travel:

Miscellaneous:

On my lists, “Miscellaneous” was a general category I used for information about marching band and non-major dance programs. Fill that section with your own personal needs or extracurricular interests!

Related: College Search Spreadsheet Template

This brings me to making checklists of characteristics you want and need in a college. We’ll cover that next week, so be sure to keep your eye out for part two of this blog! 

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Winnie H.

Winnie H.

Hello! I'm Winnie. I'm from Northern California and I really like boba. I also love the cold, reading, and writing. I am a not-so-secret hopeless romantic who finds inspiration in everything around me, which often is incorporated into my writing. I love everything Harry Potter- and Six of Crows-related, and on weekends you'll probably find me watching figure skating, gymnastics, or a romance movie.

 
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