• Orange Staff

How to Build a College List

---by Lauren Elmer


While applications typically aren’t due until the winter of senior year, it is crucial to know exactly where you want to apply. The way that I started this process was by asking myself questions about where I could see myself in the next few years of my life. I quickly came to the conclusion that harsh winter weather in the northeast is just not my vibe, so I began to look south of New York. I also knew that I would want to be able to do research while on campus and live close to, but not within a city. This gave me the scope of looking for medium-sized institutions that offer programs I am interested in. For me, that meant political science, business, neuroscience, and human development.


Most guidance counselors use the words, “safety”, “match, and “reach” in order to describe colleges. A safety school is a university you will likely be accepted to. A match is a school that almost perfectly meets your stats (GPA and SAT/ACT scores). “Reach” is a term used to describe schools with averages that are above your stats. However, it is important to note that you are not guaranteed admission to a school even if your statistics are above their average.Everyone’s process is different, so you will have a different number of safeties and reaches than your friends.


Most people apply to 10 school or less, and many of them are match and safety schools with only a few reaches. In my case, I applied to over ten school and many of them were reaches.


These are a handful of questions that I recommend you consider in choosing where to apply:

1. Do I want to commute or live on campus?

2. Do I want to stay in New York? If not, how far am I willing to go? A car or plane ride away?

3. Should the school be small, medium, or large? Public or private? Rural, Suburban, or urban?

4. Does the school have merit scholarships or need-based aid?

5. What are the demographics like? Female-to-male ratio?

6. is there sports culture?

7. Is the university religiously affiliated?


While this is not a perfect list of questions, it is definitely a place to get started. I recommend beginning to ask yourself these questions in the second semester of your junior year. It is also a good idea to ask your older friends what they considered in building their college lists.


Lastly, you can visit https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search to help narrow down your list of schools. Word of caution: when you are selecting the criteria for possible schools, keep track of the search results in the background so you don't unwittingly eliminate a large number of schools from your selection pool.


Good luck everyone!

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