How to Build a College List

How to Build a College List

If your student is a sophomore or junior, it’s time to create a list that is robust enough to give you options, but tight enough that you can execute fantastic applications to all of them. 

The decision can be more difficult to make for families that have experienced challenges communicating about college or making decisions together. 

And for families applying to US colleges for the first time, the stakes are even higher to know how to confidently create a college list. 

With over 2,000 four-year colleges in the United States, there could be many schools that fulfill your needs. 

What do you need to know to build a college list? We’re glad you asked:



1. How many schools should be on our college list?

We suggest a list of about 10-15 schools. 


2. Why should we aim for that number of schools? That seems like a lot of work! 

This allows you to have 3-4 reaches, 6-7 target schools, and 2-3 safeties. 

Any fewer and you might not have enough acceptances to choose from. 

Any more and you might not have enough time to create quality applications to all of them.  


3. What opportunities are you interested in? How do we determine what schools are a good fit?

You will be presented with a number of different options as you go about your college career. 

Are you interested in going abroad? Would a co-op program help you with your career? 

If there is an opportunity at one school that you are excited about, make sure that option is available to you at other schools on your list!


4. How should the school location and environment impact our decisions?

The physical, academic, and social environment of a school is going to be important in determining fit. Where do you want to live? 

Focusing on a specific geographic area or environment (such as urban vs. rural) can help refine your college choices. 

Also think about diversity. What do you want your campus to look and feel like? 

Talking to current students can help you get a better sense of the school’s social and cultural landscape.


5. How important is it for my child to feel excited about the colleges on the list? 

Don’t leave your student’s unique attributes aside, and their desires go untapped. It is imperative that they feel excited about every school on their list, even the “safeties”. 

The difference between categories of schools should be in selectivity, not in what is offered or the learning environment. 

This is a point where sometimes parents don’t see eye to eye with their kids, but they should balance their desire to set their kid up for success with what is actually a good fit and exciting for their kid. students should be pushed to reflect meaningfully on what they want out of their college experience, too, so that they are considering – more than just how well the basketball team did last season when they are choosing colleges.


6. How much should parent’s preferences be a factor?  

At the end of the day, nobody can tell you what will make you comfortable better than yourself. Research each school carefully and go with the options that look best for you!

Check out Signet’s College Admissions School Choice Worksheet. It will guide you through multiple factors you may want to consider as you generate and refine your list.

Remember that applying and enrolling are two completely separate processes. Narrowing down your list doesn’t mean you’re committing to anything just yet.

In fact, you can always revisit your top choices and attend events for admitted students before making your final decision. With a balanced and exciting list, you’re more likely to receive attractive offers from multiple schools.

With the right guidance and resources, you’ll create a college list that reflects your unique goals and strengths. 


7. How do test scores factor into decisions about which colleges to include? 

Consider how test scores will help in the process. Is the score higher than a school’s average? Then it will probably help. If not, they should consider applying “test optional” or not applying at all if that school requires testing! 

Or work with us at Signet – we help increase your scores, with one-on-one test prep support and strategies that will change the game for your student. 

Register now for our upcoming live session on Thursday, Mar 23, 2023, 06:00 PM ET, How to Build a College List – Watch Now!


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