Your college list is critical, because having the right one for YOU will determine whether you’ll have suitable options come spring of senior year. The wrong college list can greatly affect your admissions outcome, no matter how well you craft your applications. Here are key points to crafting a college list that is realistic, well-balanced, and filled with schools where you’d be happy to attend.
1) Compile your personal college selection criteria: distance from home, setting (urban, suburban, small town, rural), size, Greek life (yay or nay), coed vs. single sex, religious affiliation, diversity, academic offerings, academic rigor, campus’ vibe, student to faculty ratio, graduation rate, public vs. private, campus or none, activities in your interest areas, cost, and testing policies.
2) Explore colleges that fit most of your criteria. Visit these schools before finalizing your list –or visit comparable types of colleges to determine which criteria matter most to you. If you can’t visit, try virtual campus tours, exploring each college’s website, including departmental pages. Peruse college guidebooks, and talk with current students and alumni via social media platforms. For each college, collect and organize information for each of your selection criteria, and note pros/cons, making it clearer which are best fits.
3) Assess your odds of admission to each school. Investigate the academic requirements for admission and where your profile fits in each school’s acceptance pool. Evaluating your odds must also including examining the acceptance rate at each college. Then categorize each college as a Reach, Match, or Safety school in relation to you. Reach schools are ones that are not as likely for you, though not out of the question, either. Your overall academic stats are below those of the majority of accepted students at these schools and it would take something compelling on your application to override those odds. Reaches are possibilities to shoot for, but cannot be counted on. And for colleges that accept less than 20% of applicants, “reach” applies to all applicants, so recognize that even highly qualified students may be denied.
Match/Target schools are those that are in your “ballpark,” ones where you have a reasonable chance acceptance based on your stats falling solidly in range. Matches are where most students land.
Safety/Likely schools are those for which your profile is above the majority of enrolled students and don’t have a very low acceptance rate. Your safety schools are still very good schools and are “safe” only in terms of your chances. Everyone needs safety schools, and they ought to be ones you’d be happy to attend. Put two sure bet schools on the list to ensure a choice, just in case your reach or match schools don’t come through.
4) Compile a balanced final college list: about 40% Reaches, 40% Matches, and 20% Safeties. This often means 4-6 Reaches, 4-6 Matches/Targets, and 2 Safeties/Likelies, for a final total of 10 to 14 schools. Applying to more than 14 could be too many, given the efforts demanded for effective applications. Too few applications and you could be shut out!
Once you have finalized your carefully curated college list, you’ll have a solid foundation for embarking on the application process, allowing you to attend a school that is right for you.
This guest post was written by Susan Taub, ED.M., an independent college counselor based near New York City. For nearly 20 years, Susan has counseled students in the US and internationally, drawing on her experience of 40 years in a wide range of education roles. Susan received a BA from Tufts University and an Ed.M. from Harvard. Susan advises students starting as early as ninth grade, and has particular expertise in very selective college admissions and specialized performing arts degree programs. Learn more at college-wise.com.