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How To Build Your College List

A question that we hear a lot from students and families during their first meeting with us is how to think about building a college list, and what they should consider in this process.


There is a combination of factors that result in not only a strong college list but more importantly, a well-rounded college list.


(Ps- want to watch a video on this topic? Click HERE to see Zach’s video on college lists) 


Because many students can thrive in more than one type of environment, it’s important to know yourself, and your personality, to choose the school that’s going to fit you best. You also should think about how comfortable you’d feel being far away from your family and your hometown. Some students like the idea of being a 20-minute drive from home, while others are intrigued at the possibility of traveling to the opposite coast, or – take a deep breath, parents! –  maybe even another country. But you shouldn’t worry, because the best college for your child may very well be far away, and at the end of the day you want them to be happy. Plus, with social media, Skype, and Google Hangouts, you are really never that far apart anyway.  


Another crucial component of building your college list is being realistic about your academic profile. If some classes during high school have been more of a challenge or you’ve enjoyed being able to have access to teachers for more direct academic help, looking for a college that has smaller class sizes is important to consider. The reality is there are many schools that offer low student-to-teacher ratios, professors who emphasize hands-on learning, and the opportunity to explore several areas of study at a pace that works well for you, and best fits your learning style.


You also want to give yourself options. It’s never a good idea to apply only to reach schools, just as it’s not a great idea to apply to only safeties. You are aiming for a range of colleges that will enable you to succeed both academically and socially. Don’t focus your list based on where your friends are applying, because their list is based on the schools that right for THEM, not you.


Ask yourself this question when thinking about even your best friend: Do you have the same grades, interests, test scores, extracurricular activities, internships, volunteering experiences, family dynamics, world knowledge, sense of humor, climate preferences, political points of view… If the answer is no to even one of these things, then your lists are not going to be identical, and that’s ok.


At the end of the day, there’s no point in applying to a school that you wouldn’t be happy attending. You have a lot freedom when you are considering colleges, which is a good thing, because, at age 16, 17, 18, you are becoming your own person, you are taking responsibility for your actions and choices. So, think about what YOU want. Where MIT ranks on the list of top Computer Science programs ultimately might not matter too much if you are scared of the cold and hate walking around busy cities. Don’t concern yourself with your friend’s admission to Pomona if you aren’t even interested in colleges with fewer than 10,000 students.  


And as important as any other factor is in building your college list, give yourself enough time. You need time to seek guidance, time to research, time to arrange and take college tours, time to discuss with your family and your counselor, and time to allow for your school work – which don’t forget, actually does extend into senior year!


Remember, you are going to be spending the next 4 years of your life on a new campus as an undergraduate student. So, take the time to figure out what’s best for you.        


All the best,

Team Insight 

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