Junior year is the time to start thinking about the college application process. Where do you begin? By making a college list. You’ll want to draft your college list by spring break and finalize it by the start of summer so you can focus on applications, essays, and supplements.
How Can Juniors Develop A College List?
Begin by reflecting on what you want in a college: not what your parents want, not what your friends want, what you want.
If you need some help, start with our worksheet: the Personal College Inventory—What’s Important to You? Take some time to thoughtfully and honestly fill it out. It will walk you through the most important questions you should consider before you begin your college search.
With your ranked list of preferences, you’re ready to look for specific schools. Our Resource Guide for Researching Schools will give you a list of easy resources you can use.
5 Steps to Start Developing Your College List
Now that you’ve got a few basic resources at your disposal, there are a few steps you can follow:
- Step 1: Read over your Personal College Inventory worksheet and make sure it represents your wants and needs.
- Step 2: Gather your GPA and SAT or ACT scores. If you don’t know your GPA, contact your guidance office.
- Step 3: Figure out what kinds of schools you may qualify for using our GPA vs. SAT/ACT Score Chart.. This guide is approximate, but it can help you get started. (Note that this chart is based on the old SAT, not the new SAT. It’s too soon to tell how the new scores measure up. If you have questions about this, reach out to us and we can help you through it.)
- Step 4: Use our resource The Top Questions to Answer When Researching a School for ideas about questions to ask when researching particular colleges.
- Step 5: Note down colleges that seem like a good fit on the School Research Tracking Spreadsheet. The better your notes, the easier it will be to sort through everything later.
Narrow Down Your College Search Choices
At the end of this process, you should have 15-30 schools on the first draft of your list. Further break this list down into three categories:
- Safety—below your GPA and SAT/ACT combination;
- Target—around your GPA and SAT/ACT combination;
- Reach—above your GPA and SAT/ACT combination.
Now it’s time to narrow down your choices to manageable lists. These final college lists should match your preferences and talents with academic competitiveness and resources. You’ll ideally want:
- 2–3 safety colleges
- 3–4 target colleges
- 2–3 reach colleges
Applying to any more than this will spread your attention too thin.
Consider Your Options
Next, in order to differentiate between colleges that all seem to meet your needs:
- Visit the campuses. Take lots of pictures, talk to as many current students as possible, and write down your impressions as soon as you’re done with the visit.
- Think about the logistics of getting to and from each college. Is it important for you to be close to home? In a city? To at least have access to the culture and nightlife of an urban area?
- Think about the resources and qualities you want in a school. Student body diversity, opportunities to study abroad, specific library collections, research labs, even average weather/temperature may be important to know.
This is a major decision for a junior to make alone. Don’t be afraid to involve your whole family. You might disagree, but their input could be helpful. If you need a little extra support, feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to connect you with a college counselor to address your specific questions.