How to Build a Solid College List

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It’s daunting to think about all the choices and opportunities out there when it comes to finding the right school. That’s why we recommend starting early, during junior year of high school, in order to take the time you need to make an informed and smart decision about where you will apply. 

Here is a checklist of things to consider when building your college list:  

Urban, suburban or rural? Location is a major factor in choosing a college. Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of the city or are you looking for a more traditional campus with lots of green space? 

Size. Both small and large campuses and schools have a lot to offer. In addition to the size of the school, consider class size if this is important to you or if it could impact your learning style.

Majors/minors. Does the college have areas of study that interest you; and also interesting options if you change your mind?

Campus life. Consider must-haves for campus life — such as Greek life, business clubs, service opportunities, study abroad options, diversity and inclusion resources — then explore college websites and social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to find out more from current students and alumni.   

Athletics. Whether you plan to play or not, athletics is a big part of school spirit.

Extracurriculars/clubs. Exploring your interests — and discovering new ones — is an important part of your college education. Clubs are a great way to do that, and to meet people with similar interests.

Food/housing. Do you plan to live on campus? Is housing guaranteed? What kind of meal options are available?

Transportation. How easy is it to get to and from campus? Do you require public transportation?

Internship opportunities. Do you prefer internship opportunities close to campus? What resources are available to help you find and take advantage of these opportunities?

Cost. Affording college is a huge concern for college students and their families. Compare the tuition and fees for state vs. private institutions — but remember that financial aid may defer some of the cost. (Don’t base your list solely on sticker price.)

Acceptance rate. It’s a good idea to balance your list with a mix of “safety/back up,” “likely/target” and “reach/dream” schools.

Download tips for how to build a solid college list!

The best way to figure out this process is through research. Start with an initial list of schools and then dig deeper. Meet with your school counselor early on. There are many college-search tools out there like Naviance, College Board, Capex, Peterson’s Guide, Chegg and College Navigator. Most college websites offer virtual tours, but a visit to campus will give you a true sense of the culture.

And remember: Make it about you. First and foremost, consider the kind of school that you are looking for — not your friends or family. 

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