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Junior Toolkit

Section 3: College List Building

“ Since narrowing down the list of schools that you’re interested in has to come before the application process, we wish that more students knew how important it is to dig a little deeper during the college search. Do your research about each college, and have the courage to allow your perceptions to change; keeping an open mind during the search process can lead you to unexpected places. ”

- Shelly M. Placek, Johns Hopkins University

Building a solid, realistic college list is important.” style=

Where should I apply?

For most students, there is a rush of excitement when they begin to consider all the colleges they might apply to. But the process of building your college list shouldn’t be rushed. It takes a lot of time and research to craft a thorough and realistic college list. Make sure you give yourself this time.

Start by considering the college-related factors that matter most to you: school size, course offerings, student life, distance from home, etc., and build your list around them.

Try to visit the colleges you’re interested in. If you can’t visit, you can still research them thoroughly online. And don’t be afraid to contact admissions officers themselves; answering your questions is part of their job, and they’re happy to do it.

Thinking about college is an exciting process, but never forget that your college list is the basis for much of the upcoming college admissions process. Applying to the wrong schools can lead to a lot of unnecessary time and work on your part, so evaluate each college on your list with caution.

Some of the questions answered in this section's video:

How many colleges should I apply to?

The colleges I’m interested in aren’t ranked very highly in the magazines. Does that mean they’re not good schools?

I have dozens of colleges on my list. How do I narrow it down?


Video: College List Building (4:41)

Things to Remember:

  • One of the most important features of your college list is “balance.” The schools on your list should exhibit a wide range of selectivity. Another important feature of your list should be that every school on it is a school you’d be excited to attend. Striking this balance is not always easy, so be prepared to spend a lot of time composing and refining your college list.
  • Knowing this, try to limit your list to between 6 and 10 colleges. Each of these applications will require a lot of your time and resources–essays, data input, application fees–so overloading your college list can be detrimental to the quality of your applications.
  • Finally: have fun building your college list. College Specific's free List-Building Checklist will help you make sure that you’ve considered all the important factors for each of the colleges you are considering.


Other Sections in the Junior Toolkit: