How to Pick 8 Colleges Out Of 4,000

Posted: January 31, 2016

It’s time to start that college list! Especially if you are interested in the more highly selective schools, you need to use winter and spring of your junior year to get started, because your early action and early decision applications will be due in October or November.
Luckily, the Common Application has changed their policies so you can begin filling in your app now, and the data will carry over for the new school year. Visit Common to get started. They even have an app!
Wondering how to find colleges? The first thing to do is to make some decisions about what you want: big or small, urban, suburban or rural, close to home or far away, liberal arts or something more research or pre-professional? Grabs some friends and take a weekend tour of a college near you just to get a feel for what to expect. What do they focus on? What kind of student do they want? All of this will give you some ways to narrow down your list.
Then go to a college search engine. My favorite is Big Future. Put out by the College Board, Big Future lists all the schools in the country and allows you to sort them all sorts of ways: size, location, major, ACT/SAT score, whether or not they have a marching band, etc. If you have a Raise.Me account, you can use that to search for some schools. Links to other great search engines can be found on the resources page of this website or in the “Launchpad” column of your Custom College Plan, under the Resources tab above, or by Googling "college search." Using these college search engines, you can build a preliminary list and start making some decisions about where you’d like to go. One good way to find colleges that fit you is to find strong programs in the majors you are interested in. Another is to check out the Colleges That Change Lives, the Peterson Guide or Cool Colleges… The one place you should not look is one of the rankings magazines.

But what if you’re undecided? Some scientifically developed assessments--personality type, multiple intelligences and learning style inventory--are available to you through Custom College Plan. These quick quizzes can give you some clues about what majors and careers might interest you and suite your personality. They will not tell you definitively who you should be when you grow up, but rather they’re meant to give you some ideas to learn more about. If you don’t already have a Custom College Plan account, you will receive a one-month free trial as part of the assessment package. Or you can Google "personality quiz", "multiple intelligences," or "learning style quiz" for additional information.
So how many schools should you have on your college list? Somewhere between 4 and 10. According to the College Board, applying to four schools gives you an 86% chance of being accepted to at least one (unless you’re only applying to hyper-competitive Ivies, in which case you have a less than 10% chance of being admitted no matter how many you apply to). Eight schools, in a mix of good fit and reach schools, is about average.
If you want personalized help building your college list, drop me an email through the Contact Me page. Building the college list is one of the most exciting parts of the admissions process and I’d love to help!

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