College is a time for students to explore, be curious, discover new interests and uncover new passions. The big question is,“ Where do I begin? How do I create a college list?” With over 4,000 colleges and universities from which to choose, it can be analogous to finding the perfect home. Guess what? College is your new home for the next four years. Follow these steps and off you go.
Step 1: Visit websites that help identify colleges that are right for you.
Find out what you like. Ask yourself: Am I a student who wants to study biochemical engineering and focus on undergraduate research under an esteemed professor? Do I want to go to a Division 1 school in the East Division of the Big Ten Conference? Am I the college student who will be oozing with school spirit in the bleachers, cheering on my home team? Maybe I’ll branch into the humanities and arts and discover rich history within a prestigious liberal arts school. The sky’s the limit here, and the list of possibilities is endless!
Websites such as The College Match, Unigo, Cappex, and the College Board are good resources.
TIP: When creating your college list, it can be very helpful to take a virtual tour of the schools on your college list.
Step 2: Know what colleges are looking for in their applicants.
Now that you have websites to peruse to create your college list, you should ask, “What should I include in my search to create my college list?” The following criteria will jump start your list:
This is the most important part of your admissions profile. Admissions committees always want to know your current course selection. Are you challenging yourself with AP, IB, and Honors classes? It is very important to excel and maintain good grades all throughout high school.
This is the second most important piece of information. It will help you determine what colleges on your list to classify as “reach,” “target,” and “likely.” By inputting the aforementioned data, you will have a college list you can now narrow down. TIP: Many schools are becoming test-optional, so if you know that you are not a good test taker and tests doesn’t showcase your abilities, please visit FairTest to create or add to your college list.
This is the percentage of applicants admitted the previous year. It’s a very useful indicator when creating your college list. Typically, I recommend making sure your GPA and test scores place you at the 75th percentile for the likely schools and above the 25th percent for the reach schools.
Step 3: Find Your “FIT.”
What is “FIT?” Where do I see myself for the next four years? Factors such as location, size, academics, community, type of school, and so much more are involved in your college decision.
Location: Where do I see myself? Do I want to be in the Northeast? South? Midwest? West Coast? Could I even go abroad? Do I like the weather?
Size: Do I want a small school with small class sizes where I can have intimate discussions? Or do I want a large or medium-sized school with larger lectures.
Academics: There are many different types of academic styles at college. What style of learning do I prefer? A lecture style, discussion, seminar, laboratory, studio or independent study/research? Also, if you know what you may want to major in or what field of study to pursue, you should research schools that excel if the course of study you may be interested in.
Community: It’s important that the community in which you place yourself for college is a place where you feel comfortable and can thrive. Everyone has a different community from where they hail. Everyone has different needs. It is important to discover early where your passions and career interests lie. This will enable you to find a community that feels SAFE while also providing the excitement and adventure of college learning and growing.
Types of School: Do you want a public or private college, a liberal arts school, large university, two or four year college, school with special focus, single-sex college, religious college or a specialized-mission college?
Step 4: Finalize your list.
I recommend 10 schools to be on your final college list: 3 reach, 3 target, 3 likely, and 1 more to whichever category you choose. Once you create your list, start setting up your college visits. TIP: There is nothing better than seeing the campus firsthand, sitting in on a class, and getting a sense of the community. Don’t forget to stop into the student center to grab a bite to eat and talk to actual students! A college visit and tour can make or break your college list. I highly recommend downloading The Campus Visit Score Card to keep track of each visit.
It’s never too early to start creating your college list: the earlier the better! A true “fit” is a place where you feel welcome and at home.
Mara Patti is the founder of the premier college consulting company, One2One College Consulting, and provides customized educational services to students and parents. Mara enjoys working hands-on and is committed to helping students achieve their academic goals. She believes it is important for her to get to know her students’ aspirations, dreams, strengths and weaknesses as early as possible, because getting to know a student personally plays an integral role in finding the best “fit” school.
She is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), American School Counselors Association (ASCA), College Counselors (Admission’s and Financial Aid) and the New Jersey Professional School Counselors Association. Prior, Mara served as the College Coordinator and guidance counselor at Bergen County Academies, a public magnet high school in northern New Jersey, where she assisted students through the college application process. She also coordinated college information sessions, panels, and trips to schools ranging from Ivy League to highly selective universities. To learn more about Mara and One2One College Consulting, visit her website here.