How to Build a Balanced College List in 2023

by Gina Gerrato-Greenhaus

As a college consulting expert, I am here to share some inside information with you on how to build a balanced college list that reflects your overall choices and needs. While many of us may have those dream schools on our list, it’s important for us to have an accurate picture of where we stand in the admissions pool and which schools will be the best fit for us. Students often have a difficult time matching themselves to a school due to their lack of knowledge and research. When families are first approaching the college process, they often begin building the list by adding a few schools based on name recognition. People often want to apply to a school they are somewhat familiar with, however we really need to ask ourselves if that school will meet the needs of our student and help him succeed.

Top 6 Tips for Building a College List

For those of you who are novices at building the college list, here are a few things to keep in mind. Your college list is a set of schools that are customized for you and your family. This list is based on a number of factors that is very personal for your child, including his/her grades, test scores, interests, location and your personal finances. Don’t try to create a college list based on where your sons’ friends are applying. Their list of criteria is probably different then yours; so their list will also be different.

1) Location: 

Think about location carefully. Does your student prefer the west coast schools with warmer weather, or is he willing to
attend college out of state? Will he engage in a club sport or activity? How many of the schools on your list offer this activity and at what level? Is your student open to a religious school, such as a Catholic or Christian college? Has he visited the campus? Would he feel more comfortable at a school closer to home? Many students who have attended Catholic school find that they enjoy a similar atmosphere at their university.

2) Size matters:

When I hear a student using the words “spirited campus”, this usually means a large school with sports on campus. It
could be private or public. I often need to remind students that this will likely mean large classes in huge lecture halls. Even when
students cling to the idea of a spirited campus, my advice is to apply to a well rounded set of schools. Since most seventeen year old high school students will frequently change their mind, I suggest applying to a few large schools, and some mid size schools where there is an opportunity to study in smaller classes. Students often have a change of heart by May of senior year and having options make things a lot easier.

Also Read: What Are the Factors to Consider When Applying to College?

3) Reach/Match/Likely Schools:

Learn about how to match your student to a number of schools including reach,match,and likely
schools. Even if you have the grades for a highly selective college,realize that these schools often have a ten percent admit rate
and this is a reach for everyone. A match school is where a student’s academic profile is similar to the average admitted student for that campus. A likely school is where a students academic profile is significantly stronger than the average applicant.

4) Plan to apply to 8-12 schools:

Make sure you include at least one financial safety, even if cost is not an issue. You will also want to apply to some schools where you are sure to earn some merit scholarships. Research the cost, including the listed sticker price
with tuition, housing and meals. Compare this to the net price calculator listed on every college website.

5) The Value of College Visits:

If you are applying to private colleges, please visit the campus. One of the best things you can do
for your child is take them on a college visit. Colleges want to see demonstrated interest. They want to know if you are truly interested. Students should want to learn more about the schools they will be attending in fall. Visiting a school will often give a student an opportunity to speak with their future classmates. Many students return from visits feeling very invigorated about the college process. One of the best ways to match yourself to a school is to find out about the student activity groups and the projects they are involved with. As you learn more about the campus culture, you can begin to see yourself matched with a number of schools.

Also Read: Why High School and College Students Face Amplified Anxiety?

6) Majors/Minors :

In addition, you will want to look carefully at the majors and minors that are offered at each school. Once you have
completed your research you will be much more prepared to apply to college,and make an educated choice during the spring of senior
year. My best advice is always to seek guidance from a college consultant.