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How Can I Help Students Build Their College Lists?

The college admission process begins with building a good college list. Here's some expert advice to help your students start the college search.

Julia Surtshin, MSJulia Surtshin, MS
Certified Educational Planner
Finding colleges that will help students thrive depends on students reflecting on and identifying their aspirations, strengths, challenges, and personal preferences. When I begin working with students, they and their parents complete a lengthy questionnaire that not only elicits information but also stimulates their thinking about what they want from their college experience. Using their answers, we construct a picture of their ideal college and write a "shopping list" consisting of 15 or more specific college characteristics that describe their ideal. This "shopping list" forms the foundation of the college search and assists me in focusing on colleges that are suitable possibilities for each student. Furthermore, this list provides important direction for students' college research, enabling them to effectively evaluate each college option. This approach engages students' rational decision making and allows them to balance head and heart when choosing which college to attend.

Anne Macleod WeeksAnne Macleod Weeks
Upper School Director
The Agnes Irwin School
I like to start with a worksheet they can use to build a profile of the best match. This can include the results from an educational interest inventory that suggests major, what kind of extracurricular life the student wants, size of classes, distance from home, study abroad options, internship opportunities, etc. Once the student has a profile built, we then discuss colleges that would meet those criteria.

Charlotte M. KlaarCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC

I have an in-depth interview with the student and parents together so that everyone is on the same page in regards to the elements to be considered when I create the list. Once I have gathered all the information I need, I ask the student to take a career and personality assessment so that I have more information about the student. Once all the information is received, I create a list of about 15 schools for the student to research and the family to visit. Once the visits are completed and research is done, adjustments to the list are made based on the student’s reactions to particular colleges on the list. I ask my students to have a final list of colleges that will receive applications decided on by late September of senior year.

Ann HerbenerAnn Herbener
College Counselor
Papillion-La Vista High School
During my sophomore guidance lesson, I show students how to research colleges using a variety of website searches. We then add their PLAN or PSAT scores and GPA into the search. I also encourage all sophomores and juniors to attend college fairs. By the time we sit down one-on-one as seniors, they should have started a basic list. Through our individual discussions we then try to narrow the list to between four and eight colleges.

Suzan ReznickSuzan Reznick
The College Connection
After spending a minimum of two hours discussing all the factors that might have an impact on their list including geography, size, academic programs, extracurricular needs, weather, religion, etc., I also request transcripts and test scores to determine their academic profile. I then spend several days researching which schools should make that original list.

CX experts generic imageHeather Johnson
Educational Consultant
I have a questionnaire that students fill out that helps to define some of the parameters of their search. I use this in conjunction with their transcript and standardized testing and begin with a preliminary list of schools for them to consider. From there we discuss the ones that are interesting—and not interesting—to them and why, and we discuss narrowing down or adding to the list.

Sandra E. CliftonSandra E. Clifton
Educational Consultant for Social & Emotional Learning
Clifton Corner: An Academic Coaching Center
I usually spend quite a bit of time with students getting to know each one as a person—stepping away from the “résumé” of their experiences and exploring who each one is as an individual with passionate interests and unique aspirations. This is the ripe soil with which we begin to explore specific colleges that might be a good “field of dreams” for investing their future endeavors.

Tom KleeseTom Kleese
OnCampus College Planning
I get the student and parents in the room for a two-hour dialogue that involves everyone but is primarily a conversation between myself and the student. I use a modified version of the questions from my book, Building the University of You: 10 Critical Questions to Find the Best College Fit, to gather information and preferences. I then prepare a customized list and help the students research and contact the schools on the list. From there we determine which are good potential fits, and then we expand on that list to bring in even more options. Along the way I may ask which schools do not interest her anymore, and we’ll toss those out, but only for good reasons. I think students are too quick to build a list without knowing exactly what they need.

Help your students stay organized while conducting college research with our College Search Spreadsheet Template.

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