It’s 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 complete this list by the start of summer so you can focus on applications, essays, and supplements.

So, how do you develop a college list?

It starts with you.

Begin by reflecting on what you want in a college: not what your parents want, not what your friends want, what you want.

Start with our worksheet: the Personal College Inventory—What’s Important to You? Take some time and thoughtfully and honestly fill it out. It will walk you through the most important questions you should be asking yourself before you begin the college search. 

After you do the Personal College Inventory, it’s time to look for specific schools. Our Resource Guide for Researching Schools will give you a list of recommended resources. We think these are the easiest to use.

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 any necessary changes. 
    • Step 2: Gather your GPA and SAT or ACT scores. If you don’t know your GPA, contact your guidance office. 
    • Step 3: Use our GPA vs. SAT/ACT Score Chart to figure out the level of selectivity of the schools you should look it. 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. 

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 be based on matching 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. 

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, so don’t be afraid to involve your whole family. You might disagree, but the input from others may be helpful to consider. 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.

Need more guidance? Signet is here to help!