Strategies For Picking A College To Add To Your List

Picking a college to add to your list is no easy task. You go through the websites of colleges across the U.S. and they all seem like great options. How do you pick just a few from among these fantastic choices? And how many should you add to your list?

These strategies will help to simplify the process.

Student picking a college on a map

Start Early

The college search process can take much more time than you may think. There are some outstanding higher educational institutions in the United States. The earlier you start your college search, the more time you’ll have to do a more thorough search. You never know what hidden gems you may stumble upon. Giving yourself time is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you start too late, you risk overlooking or missing colleges that may have been the perfect fit for you.

Most students wait until senior year to start the college search process. Experts suggest that this may be a tad too late. It may seem like there’s enough time but the fact is there are so many other things you need to do too. Trying to fit your college search in between everything else will just add to your stress levels. At some point, you may run out of time and will end up making a rushed decision that’s not ideal for you.

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Keep An Open Mind

When you start exploring colleges, don’t get hung up on wanting to attend a particular institution because it’s a sibling’s, or friend’s alma mater. Just because a school is a good fit for your best friend, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for you too. Sure, you can look into those schools to learn more about them but you have to be objective. Your decisions must be based on your academic and career goals as well as your personal preferences and learning style.

Make A List Of Your Goals And Preferences

Do this before you even start researching colleges. You have to first know what you want before trying to find out if a college offers it. There’s really no point looking into what a college offers if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

These are some of the things to think about when making a list of your goals and preferences.

Your intended major

Not every high school student knows what they want to major in. That’s okay. If you aren’t sure, think about your areas of interest and possible majors. This will at least help you strike out those colleges that you’re definitely not interested in. For example, if you’re interested in anything related to the arts, you can eliminate all science and research universities right away.

College size

Some students thrive in a ‘big fish in a small pond’ type of situation. Others prefer the anonymity that comes with being a ‘small fish in a big pond’. Think about which one is better for you and choose a small or big college accordingly.


Do you dream of representing your college in a particular event or sport? If you do, that should be among your top criteria for picking a college. You want to be careful to shortlist only those schools that have a team in your event.

Extracurricular activities

While this may not be a top criterion, getting the opportunity to participate in your favorite activity will enhance your college experience.

Campus location

Different campus settings offer completely different experiences and opportunities. Think about what type of location best aligns with your preferences. Do you think a rural, urban, or suburban setting would be the best fit for you?

Other geographical factors

Do you need or want to be as close to home as possible? Would extreme weather conditions affect your health? These factors may or may not play a role in your decision making. But it’s better to strike them out rather than just ignore them completely.

Make a list of your preferred options. This will make it easier to pick only those colleges that tick all the boxes. When making your list, add any other things that are important to you. Is attending a religious college important for you? Would you prefer to attend an all-black school? Anything else you think of that’s important to you, add it to your list.

Create A Balanced Shortlist

In the beginning, you’ll likely start out with a long list of colleges. You need to narrow your options down to a more manageable number. Try not to have more than ten to twelve colleges on your final shortlist. Applying to more than twelve colleges can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful.

Ideally, your list should include a combination of Reach, Match, and Safety schools.

Reach Schools

A reach school is one in which your academic profile is not as strong as the average accepted student. Your chances of getting accepted in a reach school are low. Add a reach school to your list only if you’ve found any that you would really love to attend. At any rate, don’t include more than three on your list.

Match or Target Schools

A match school is one in which your academic profile is as good as the average accepted student. You have a strong chance of getting accepted into a match school. Your list should include at least 4 match schools. You can add more if you don’t have any reach schools on your shortlist.

Safety Schools

A safety school is one in which your academic profile is significantly stronger than the average accepted student. You will almost certainly be accepted into a safety school. It’s good to have a couple of safety schools on your list just to be on the safe side. Just one or two is good. Don’t include more than that.

Good Luck Picking a College!

The important thing to keep in mind is that everyone has their own priorities. For some, a competitive watersports team may be the top priority. For others, the top priority may be attending a school closer to home. While using the strategies above to guide your choices, also consider what’s most important to you when picking a college to add to your list.

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