Building your balanced college list is an essential part of the college readiness and application process. Ideally, this process will begin long before Senior year. This process is most successful when students and families think about and research personalized school lists all throughout high school. Do you have family trips planned for any of the school breaks? Consider throwing a college visit on the itinerary! Getting together with an old family friend that attended a college across the country? Have them talk to your child about their experiences! The process of building a balanced school list is involved, and the more information students have to work with, the better their school list will serve as a reflection of their academic, personal and financial fit.
First, let’s focus on the kinds of schools that should be on your balanced college list: reach, match & safety schools.
But, how do you decide which schools end up on your list?
- Determine what is important TO YOU.
Building a balanced college list involves keeping an open mind. Often times, students and families immediately gravitate towards name brand schools. And for some, this is a fine place to start. But for a majority of the population, this is not the best route. For each and every student, it is imperative to determine what your fit factors are. We encourage students to engage in some self reflection, and help them understand what’s important in building their balanced college list. It should not be the same list as their best friend or older sibling. Also, we encourage students to think about fit factors in addition to, and outside of academic major.
The average college student changes their major 3 times! So, if you were to wake up one morning and decide to pursue a different major, we want to ensure you are on a college campus that will be the perfect fit for you, no matter what you’re studying.
Here is a list of college fit factors to consider:
- Location (city, rural, east coast, west coast, close to an airport/train station etc.)
- Class size
- Living accommodations
- Greek life
- School spirit
- Campus food
- Academic opportunities
- Academic climate (competitive, not as competitive etc.)
- Study abroad opportunities
2. Dig into some research.
Now that you’ve started to think about what is important to you, we need to put those fit factors to the work! A great online tool for this is Big Future. You can actually use your personal fit factors as search criteria to see which schools match what you are looking for. Spend a lot of time with these search results. Do you see a school on that list that is not what you’re looking for? GREAT! Yes, I said GREAT! Learning about what you don’t like is just as important as finding what you do like. Make a note of the school and what is not a great fit for you so you can keep avoid similar schools in the future. There are over 4000 schools in the US, so this research could take you quite a while. As you dig through schools to determine which are good fits and which are not, here are a few other things to consider in your research process.
- Visit if possible! During COVID-19, that is pretty difficult, so take advantage of virtual tours to learn more about the campus community.
- Talk to admissions officers! If you can’t attend an information session, schedule one with an admissions officer who recruits/evaluates candidates in your area.
- Look at class offerings. Are you considering Journalism at The University of Missouri? Maybe you have grand ideas of being a broadcast journalist after you graduate, but what would that actually look like as a student? Take a look at the classes you’d be required to take to make sure you are excited about the curriculum.
3. Develop your “why” narrative.
Once you have a good idea of the schools on your balanced school list, you’ll need to develop your response to “why _x_” questions. Why Harvard? Why Yale? This is a great opportunity to go back to your personal fit factors that led you to those schools in the first place. It’s not enough in college admissions to say that you’re interested in a school because of a specific major or their location. We can’t tell you how many times we have read applications from Stanford applicants that said they wanted to attend because of the proximity to Silicon Valley. Snore. That’s nothing special, and says nothing special about you and your unique fit for their curriculum and culture. Developing your “why” narrative will help you immensely in the college application process!
It can be daunting and overwhelming to begin the journey of developing a balanced school list. Big Future can result in 100’s of schools that meet your criteria, so if you need help identifying your fit factors or the schools that match them, please reach out! We would be happy to help you navigate this essential part of the college application process.
Subscribe to our newsletter!