How to Create the Perfect College List

“I need to get into an Ivy League school! I should apply to 40 schools for my best chance!!!”

Sound familiar?

It’s that time of year where upcoming seniors begin focusing on their future and looking into colleges, but this process can seem intimidating and stressful. Luckily, if you spend some time carefully creating your list of schools to apply to, the process becomes much easier!

Overall Plan

We recommend that students apply to about 7-14 different schools. Of course, this will vary based on how much time you want to invest into he process. Generally, however, we strongly advise against applying to 20 or more schools because each application has an entrance fee, SAT/AP score release fee, and additional charges that often accumulate to a minimum cost of $70. 

Now, let’s break down the steps of creating your perfect college list.

Step 1: Discussing Your Future

As a student, it’s important to consider the cost of college expenses with your parents/guardians. You should note a comfortable range for tuition and also consider thinking ahead about how you can secure scholarships and financial aid. This will help you get an idea of which colleges you can afford!

You should also consider discussing what field you might pursue in the future. It is completely natural to feel overwhelmed in this step. Most college students declare their majors at the end of their sophomore year in college, so don’t worry!

That said, thinking more about your interests will help you in your search for the perfect college. If you have specific interests, you should find colleges that excel in those areas. If you do not know which field you want to pursue, consider applying to schools that excel in many fields and offer an easy transfer process between different schools and majors.

Step 2: Determining Safety, Reach, and Target Schools

To figure out which schools match your profile best, think about your GPA and standardized test scores. Colleges often have their average accepted student GPA and test scores on their websites. You can use this information to see if each college is a safety, reach, or target school:

A safety school is a college where your scores and academic standing are higher than the average. Using your data, you should feel comfortable about your chances of being accepted to these schools. We recommend having at least 2-4 safety schools.

A reach school is a college where your scores and academic standing are lower than the average. Don’t let this deter you though! There are many other compelling aspects of your application that can lead to your acceptance at these schools. We recommend including 2 or more reach schools.

Finally, a target school would ideally match perfectly with your scores and academic standing. These school fall into your realistic range and seem most probable in your future. We recommend having around 3-4 target schools.

That said, remember that colleges look at many things beyond test scores and academic standing when evaluating you as a candidate, including extracurriculars and essays. These numbers just provide a baseline for your application and are easiest indicators of safety vs. reach vs. target schools.

Step 3: Prioritizing the Deadlines

Now that you have a list, there are different options you have to consider with how you apply to these schools. Note that not all schools offer each of these options.

Early Decision is a binding plan. You can only ED to one college and you must attend if accepted. This application choice shows more interest in a specific college but also limits the amount of time you can spend on the application. If you have a dream school that offers ED, this could be a great option for you.

Early Action to a college is a non binding but will give you an early response to your application. 

Early Decision II gives students another opportunity later on to commit to a binding plan for a specific college. This option allows students more time to consider the gravity of their commitment.

Regular Decision is the normal deadline for most colleges.

To organize all this information, we recommend creating a spreadsheet or word document where you should list the schools you are interested in and their deadlines. 

This process is all about your preferences and passions. Choose a place where you can see yourself academically and personally thrive in the future. Remember it is important to stay in touch with your counselor and review your concerns, thoughts, and plans moving forward. Don’t be afraid to reach out and email them or contact us for more advice!

The application process is difficult but exciting. We’ve had so many students come to our center and they have all found the right place for them, so we know that you will also find the best place for you! If you have any questions about college admissions or making your college list, don’t be afraid to reach out! We’d love to talk to you. You can leave a comment down below or contact us directly.

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