Tips To Help You Create A Balanced College List

creating a college list

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When looking for advice on creating a college list, you will come across the words ‘balanced college list’ very often. So what exactly is a balanced college list, why is it important to create this balanced list, and most importantly, how do you go about creating a college list? You’ll find all the answers below.

What Is A Balanced College List?

A balanced college list is a collection of schools that you would like to potentially attend. These can include dream schools as well as backup schools if you don’t get into any of your first choices. 

Aiming for 4 to 12 schools on your list is a good idea. However, that doesn’t mean you should pick schools willy-nilly. Instead, you want to find balance! This means including reach, target (or match), and safety schools.

“Reach” colleges are schools that have low acceptance rates – usually below 10%, such as Harvard or Yale. These are schools that you could possibly get into, but there’s a good chance you won’t. However, there’s no harm in trying as long as you have good test scores, grades, and extracurriculars to bolster your chances and application. Keep in mind: you could have done everything right in college and still not get an acceptance letter to a reach school – and that’s okay! They are sincerely tough to get into!

“Match” colleges (or target colleges) are schools that fit what you’re looking for in a school. They should also be colleges you have a really good chance of getting into. Your test scores should fall between the 50th and 75th percentiles, and you should have similar grades and extracurriculars compared to previously accepted students. A majority of the schools on your list should be target schools.

“Safety” colleges are those where your academic profile or your test scores/GPA is significantly stronger than the middle 50% of students who typically gain admission into this college. You have the highest chance of getting admission into this category of colleges—as much as 90%.

When categorizing the colleges, it is important to consider all facets of a college, not just the academic aspect. You must also take into consideration the tuition fees, facilities, student community and the social fabric of the campus as well as the location of the college and the neighboring community.

Why You Need To Create A Balanced List

When creating their college shortlist, most students instinctively list down all colleges under the reach category because they offer everything the student is looking for. What they do not take into consideration is their chances of getting admission into that college. This is an important aspect to consider. What if you apply to all Reach colleges but you do not get accepted into any of them?

When shortlisting your colleges, it is critical to have realistic expectations. When you have a list that includes “Reach”, “Match” and “Safety” colleges, you are spreading your chances equally. With a balanced list, you are sure that you will get accepted into at least one of your preferred colleges. Even if you get rejected from a college in your dream or “Reach” list, you don’t have to panic. You know you will almost definitely get accepted into one of your preferred “Match” or “Safety” schools and that’s so much better than getting all rejections.

How To Create A Balanced College List

Now that you know why you need to create a balanced college list, here is how you should go about it.

Goes without saying, different students have different aptitudes, strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences. Moreover, different students are looking for different things from their college experience, which means each student is likely to have a completely different balanced college list. So the first thing you need to do is create a list of what it is you are looking for in a college.

Consider these factors:

  1. Major. What is the program you are looking to major in? This is so very important. Only schools that offer a major in the program you are looking at should be on your shortlist.
  2. Class Size & School Size. Would you prefer to be a big fish in a little pond or a small fish in a large pond? Many students ignore this aspect but can play a huge role in the selection. You have to decide: will you do better in a large college where you will just be ‘one of the students’? Or a smaller college where you are more likely to be known by name.
  3. Type of Curriculum. Do you perform better when everything around you is more structured? Or, do you prefer when there is more flexibility? Some curriculums are very structured and rigid, while others allow a great degree of flexibility. You have to determine which one brings out the best in you.
  4. Urban vs. Rural. Do you look forward to living the next few years in an urban or rural campus? If you love the anonymity of a large city, a city college may be a good fit for you but if you love the idea of bonding with the neighboring community, an urban setting may be more suitable.
  5. Geographical Location. For some students, an outdoor hike may sound like the perfect way to spend the weekend. Others may shudder at the thought. Also, some students may seek their thrill skiing down icy slopes. For others, the thrill lies in riding the ways on a sunny beach. Location does have an impact on your overall college experience so if you have a choice, pick a college in the location that sounds most idyllic to you.

Do Your Research

Now that you know exactly what you are looking for, it’s time to start looking for those colleges that fit your requirements. Look into the academic programs, financial aid, location, student activities, campus life, and other factors of the college. Do this for all colleges of interest. Don’t forget to also compare your academic profile against that of the average student of that college. Accordingly list that college under the “Reach”, “Match” or “Safety” categories.

Don’t be afraid of a long list. It’s better to have too many rather than too few colleges on your list. You can always go through the list again and keep shortening it down through the process of elimination.

When you are finally down to the 10-15 colleges, you should have a balanced list with an average of 5 schools in each category.

Do Your Research to Create a Balanced College List

Now that you know exactly what you are looking for, it’s time to start searching for those colleges that fit your requirements. Look into the academic programs, financial aid, location, student activities, campus life, and other factors of the colleges that catch your eye. You’ll also want to compare your academic profile against the average accepted student to the school and accordingly list the college under reach, target, or safety. 

Don’t be afraid of a long list to start with. It’s better to have too many rather than too few colleges on your list. You can always narrow it down when you’re getting ready to apply!

Even if all of your “dream” schools are in the reach category, it doesn’t mean you should only apply to those schools – even though it can be tempting. After all, you might be thinking, “I may get into one if I apply to a lot?!” However, it can sincerely backfire and leave you without a plan – it’s not worth the gamble. You can absolutely apply to those reach schools, but be sure to have balance with target and safety schools, too.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to find out whether a school is a reach, target, or safety school. College Raptor’s College Match tool does a good bit of the work for you! Simply sign up for free to get started on your balanced college list.

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