How to Create your College List

How to Create your College List

by Neil Chyten

It is time again for rising 11th graders to start thinking about their college list, and for rising 12th graders to solidify theirs.  So, where does an intrepid 11th grader begin, and a slightly behind schedule 12th grader turn for help? The truth is that most students begin in the worst possible place – US News and World Report’s college rankings. Don’t get me wrong, college rankings have their place in college admission, it is simply not the best place to start. The best place to start is alone in a silent room, asking yourself the right questions, and doing some serious soul-searching. 

While it is certainly glamorous and satisfying to say that you got into a top 10 college, an Ivy League college, Stanford, Duke, U Chicago, USC, Northwestern, or one of the Little Ivies, it is far more important to consider how you want to be spending the next four years of your life—years that will likely impact how you will spend the rest of your life. Are you sure you want to attend a college simply because it has a prestigious name? Wouldn’t you rather spend the next four years nurturing an intrinsic desire you have to study in a particular field? Wouldn’t you rather feed your natural passion for learning a particular subject? And while it is definitely possible to have the best of all worlds, it is far more advisable to explore your passions than to trust a list based on various characteristics, many of which have nothing to do with you or the quality of education you will receive. 

#1. Begin by analyzing your accomplishments to date­. Look collectively at your GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, honors and awards, potential recommendations, and special accomplishments. Top colleges expect that the cumulative record you have managed to acquire will be in the top few percentiles nationally. After all, when it comes to top colleges, it is a sellers’ market meaning that there are far more students who want to attend than a college can possibly accept.  

#2. Decide what you are truly passionate about and select colleges that can nurture that passion. Some majors, such as economics and biology, are quite common and many colleges could scratch your itch to learn these subjects. However, if your passion is less popular, e.g. art, music, biochemistry, or European history, make sure to include colleges that have strong programs in these areas. You can find this information on various search engines including, and  Keep in mind that even though you don’t have to choose a major for most colleges, you do have to indicate your academic preferences. Those preferences should match up nicely with your accomplishments. 

#3. Go into depth on each college’s website to explore some of the classes you would take. Determine if they are appealing to you. If you’d like, you can also investigate the accomplishments and current research of the professors and departments.  Each college lists its current and past research on its website. If this research gets you excited, you may be a good match for that college. If possible, you should also visit a few of your favorite colleges.  There is no better way to get a flavor for a college.   

#4. Be realistic. Every college list should include the colleges you dream about. But you should also include colleges that you are likely to get into. In general, it makes sense to divide your list into reaches, target, and safeties. Overall, target schools should make up the biggest portion of your list, while safeties should make up the smallest portion. Also, don’t fall in love with any one college. Instead, keep your options and emotions open to multiple possibilities.   

#5. Start with a list of 20 schools, then start to shave it down to a more reasonable number (10-15) by comparing each against the others on the list. Most shaving should occur within the safety category. For example, if both Bard and Bentley are safeties for you, which would you choose over the other? Then, eliminate the other one. By the way, it is perfectly fine for you to have a list of 20 colleges or even more as long as you are willing to put in the work and money that it takes to apply. 

In general, the process of building a college list should be enjoyable, not stressful.  After all, this is supposed to be one of the most exciting times of your life! Don’t make it super frustrating by worrying about creating the perfect list. There is no such thing. If you simply enjoy the process and learn enough about 20 colleges to know whether you would be happy and fulfilled on their campuses, you will have succeeded in creating the kind of list that will lead to perfect college choices for you.  

28 thoughts on “How to Create your College List

  1. 0mniartist says:

    I like what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my personal
    blogroll. 0mniartist asmr

  2. says:

    Fantastic website you have here but I was curious
    about if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get feed-back from
    other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Thanks a lot! asmr 0mniartist

  3. was asmr says:

    Awesome site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get comments from other knowledgeable people that share
    the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

  4. a asmr says:

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?

    Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.
    thank you

  5. asmr that says:

    Can I simply say what a comfort to uncover an individual who genuinely understands what they are talking about on the internet.
    You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important.

    A lot more people have to read this and understand this side of
    your story. I was surprised that you aren’t more popular because you most certainly have
    the gift.

  6. gamefly with says:

    I think this is among the most vital information for
    me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The website style is great,
    the articles is really excellent : D. Good job, cheers

  7. it asmr says:

    Right here is the right webpage for everyone who wants to find out about this topic.

    You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not
    that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject that’s
    been written about for ages. Great stuff, just wonderful!

  8. says:

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day.
    It will always be interesting to read articles from
    other authors and practice something from other

  9. says:

    Just want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is
    just spectacular and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.

    Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  10. says:

    Wonderful web site. Lots of useful information here.
    I’m sending it to several buddies ans additionally sharing
    in delicious. And of course, thank you on your effort!


  11. says:

    Wonderful goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous
    to and you’re just extremely excellent. I actually like what you have acquired here,
    really like what you are stating and the way in which
    you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it wise.
    I can’t wait to read far more from you. This is really a
    great website. scoliosis

  12. asmr on says:

    Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of
    this blog. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times
    it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability and visual appearance.
    I must say you’ve done a fantastic job with this. In addition, the blog
    loads extremely fast for me on Firefox. Outstanding Blog!

  13. dating sites the says:

    I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the
    page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  14. says:

    Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!
    Very useful info specifically the closing part 🙂 I maintain such info much.
    I used to be seeking this particular info for a long time.

    Thank you and good luck.

  15. says:

    I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering problems with your site.
    It appears as though some of the written text
    on your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is
    happening to them too? This might be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before.
    Appreciate it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *