Building Your College List
Selecting the right college is both an exciting and daunting process. For many of you, this may be the first time you’ve had to undertake a huge project that requires organization, decision-making, and a formal application. However, with a little bit of guidance and planning, this journey can also be enjoyable. Students often walk away from this process feeling empowered, assertive, confident, and even more excited about the idea of going to college. And of course, they feel satisfied knowing they’ve completed the process from start to finish!
So how do you begin building a list of schools you’re interested in applying to? Start by jotting down all of the factors that are important to you in a college: size, location, academic offerings, study abroad opportunities, campus culture, financial aid/scholarship offerings, values and mission statements. Sometimes, one category will carry more importance than you thought! You’ll want to go into this process being open to surprises and being open to change.
Next, you can take a deeper dive into some of these categories. Ask yourself questions like: do I want a small, medium, or large college? What kind of classroom setting do I envision: 20 students or 200 students? Do I see myself in an urban area, a suburban town or rural area? Do I picture myself on a walkable campus, or on campus that is more spread out? Am I okay with a cold, snowy winter? Do I want to be far from home, or would I prefer the option of returning home on weekends? Am I looking for a core curriculum or an open, more flexible, curriculum? Does this institution offer what I want to study? What does financial aid look like at this school? Are scholarships available?
These questions will give you a foundation on which to build your list. Then, you’ll want to tap into your resources: guidance counselors, your parents and/or older siblings, college guidebooks, the internet, etc. These resources are invaluable as you continue your search; they may recommend suitable colleges that you wouldn’t ordinarily consider or that you haven’t heard of before. Again, be open to surprises and to change!
As your list takes shape, you will see a group of schools that you’ve chosen for a variety of reasons. Now you’ll want to consider how many colleges you ultimately want to apply to, keeping in mind the amount of work that goes into each application. You’ll also want to discuss this number with your family and with your guidance counselor. If necessary, you can narrow down your list of colleges by considering the factors that are absolutely essential to you.
And, of course, this system isn’t foolproof! Sometimes you visit a school that seems perfect on paper, but isn’t a great match in real life. Or vise versa: sometimes you will be underwhelmed by the idea of a school and fall in love with it when you step foot on campus. Students often describe a “gut feeling” when they visit a college campus - the immediate sensation of feeling at home and feeling comfortable. When you know, you know!
Lastly, as you proceed with your search, stay organized. Check your email inbox daily to remain informed of deadlines and new information. Admissions offices will often contact you if a representative is visiting your high school or if interview timeslots become available, etc. Find an organization method that works for you: a daily planner, a weekly check-in with a parent, phone reminders, etc.
Best of luck as you begin to build your college list! The journey is just beginning.