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4 Steps to Creating Your Perfect College List

Student Life

Thu, February 15

High school students around the country are obsessed with getting into college. Once they become juniors, it is time to build a college list and get a headstart on their applications. However, making a balanced college list is difficult, especially with the marketing teams of top twenty schools. Here are four steps to creating your perfect college list.

1. Figure Out A Potential Career Path

Figuring out a career path is hard, especially when there are so many great options out there. However, you can figure out general categories for a career path. Maybe you love STEM classes, so you decide that you want to go into the STEM field.

You could be on the debate team and decide that you want to work in government or law. Whatever it is, a general idea of your career path will help you narrow down schools. If you really can't decide, some schools are good for everything and will narrow down your list.

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Photo by Parker Gibbons from Unsplash

2. Decide on Other Factors

Deciding on other factors is important because it will help you narrow down your search. These other factors include:

  1. School and Class size

School and class size are really important because they are the factors that will determine if the college is a good fit for you academically. For example, if you're coming from a large public school and are used to being in class with 30-40 people, a big school with large class sizes might be the place for you. If you come from a private or smaller public school and you are used to being in small classes and interacting with everyone on campus, a mid-size to smaller university could be a better fit.

Another thing to consider here is if you want a change. If you come from a small school and want a change in college, you might start looking at bigger schools. Whatever you choose, you need to make sure that the school and class sizes fit with your academic and personal needs.

2. Location

Location is really important because you want to be somewhere that you will be happy, and where you will have the most access to opportunities in your field of interest. Also consider if you want to be close to home, if you want to try something new, or if you want to visit home a lot. Some logistical questions to ask here would be:

  • Where is the nearest airport?
  • Do you need to rent a car or find a train or bus from the airport?
  • What is the nearest city? How far away is it?
  • What opportunities does the nearest city offer you?
  • Do you have relatives or friends near the college?
  • Do you want to be on the East Coast, West Coast, or in the Midwest?

After you look at these questions and make major location decisions, you can move onto the next factor to consider.

3. Climate

Climate is an important factor to consider. If you want to go somewhere warm for college, you will probably start looking at colleges in Florida or California. If you want to have four seasons, you could start looking at Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. If you want a climate that is similar to your home, you can start looking at schools in your state and the states surrounding it.

4. Teacher to Faculty Ratio

Teacher to Faculty Ratio is also very important because it will give you an idea of how close you can get with your teachers. If the teacher to faculty ratio is large, such as 30 students:1 teacher, their office hours will probably be crowded and you might not get as much support from the faculty. If you are someone that has a ton of questions, this is important for you to consider.

5. Social Life

Finally, social life is important because it can define your college experience. If you're someone who likes to go out a few times a week, an Ivy League might not be the place for you. If you're someone who likes to go to bed early every day, you might want to start looking at schools that don't make the top party schools list. Another thing to consider here is if you want to join a social sorority or fraternity.

Now that you have thought through all of these factors, you can begin your research.

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Photo by Dom Fou from Unsplash

3. Start Researching

Now that you have some idea of what you want in a college experience and what career path you want, you can start researching the best schools for your category. The top schools are going to show up first, so these will give you your reaches. Once you get farther down into the list, you will start seeing more and more options of good schools for you.

You could use Niche as help with your search. Make sure that you are writing down the schools you like, what you like about them, and their acceptance and graduation rates.

4. Begin Building Your List

Now that you have a large list of schools, you can begin narrowing them down. You want your list to be between ten and twenty schools, however, it varies for each person. If you are applying to more reach schools, your list might be longer, and vice versa.

If you pick your favorite fifteen to twenty schools from each list, you can start touring and exploring their social media accounts to see more of the schools. Your list is going to change because you're not going to love every school that you visit. Remember to save your initial list, and do more research if you're interested in them. Also, make sure that you and the school are a good fit for each other, because you want to be in a place where you can easily transition and fit in.

Make sure to work with your college counselor on this because they will have some good insights on the schools that you like. Once you start touring and getting more involved with the schools, you can finalize your list. Good luck and remember to be patient throughout this whole process!

Ava Jankowski
1,000+ pageviews

Writer since Aug, 2023 · 15 published articles

Ava Jankowski is a junior at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. She enjoys writing, traveling, shopping, mock trial, and playing tennis. She is excited for any learning opportunities possible. Ava will attend The School of the New York Times Summer Academy this July.