Developing a College List

Why college? Whether you’ve known your entire high school career college would be your next step or you’ve decided as a junior or senior to pursue that option; that question is the key to which schools you want on your list. The answer is less about what to major in and more about how you want your college to impact you, help you grow and challenge you personally and academically. To answer that question, focus on what factors in college are most important to you, especially as they relate to people, program and place… then ask yourself more questions like these:

PEOPLE: College will give you a chance to branch out and interact with new people—professors, roommates, classmates, advisors, participants in clubs, perhaps teammates—all of whom make up the personality of the campus. Do you want that “personality” to be like your high school experience or not? What level of academic competitiveness do you want? Do you want to meet people from different parts of the country, different countries, different perspectives? To connect with professors, will you learn best in small classes, or can you handle large lectures at first?

PROGRAM:  What majors and minors are important or interesting to you at this point (most freshmen change their minds about a major so be flexible)? Do you want to do undergraduate research, study abroad, have an internship? What clubs and organizations would you like to join? Is Greek life important? Are you looking for a school that emphasizes community service? Do you want to play intercollegiate, club or intramural sports? How important will it be to have tutoring and/or academic advising services? 

PLACE: How far from home do you want to be (college is a great time to explore a new part of the country)? What’s important to you in terms of size, proximity to a city or recreational areas, climate and weather, attractiveness of the campus and its surroundings? How competitive is the admissions process and what’s required for admission? Does the school offer merit scholarships, meet 100 percent of aid? Do you want to live on campus all four years? Would you want a separate freshman dorm, co-ed dorms, residential fraternities/sororities, specialty dorms (foreign language, ethnic, etc.)? Do you need special food options for religious or other reasons? Are computer labs accessible 24/7? Do you need to bring your own computer or do freshmen receive laptops?

This is your process, with parents and counselors serving in supporting roles. Once you establish the criteria most important to you, the next step is research. No one source has all the answers. Talk with your parents and your school counselor; attend college fairs; meet with admission reps who visit your high school; view college websites; consult other resources, such as The Fiske Guide, Colleges That Change Lives, Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges, College Board Book of Majors and College Guide​, and Peterson’s.

After all the research, create your list of schools. While there’s no magic number of how many or how few to include, the average number of applications most seniors submit is five–nine. The real keys are to be sure every school on your list is a place you would seriously consider attending and to have some reach, some target and some likely schools on the list. 

Knowing “Why College?” and having your list in hand, you’re ready for the next step!

by Phyllis Gill, Associate Director of College Guidance Providence Day School​ (NC)

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