Crafting Your College List

Posted on May 19th, 2019 to College Admission by

One of the keys to success on your college admission journey is drafting a balanced list schools to apply to. Now, this is not something that happens immediately. It comes after having done considerable research on all the schools that you are interested in, heard about, or discovered on your own. Ultimately you want to create a list that contains schools which are both a good fit and of varying selectivities. This approach continues to be the most effective approach to ensuring you are admitted to at least 1 school. But how many schools should you apply too? Which schools should you apply to? Let’s explore these questions further.


Your final college list should have anywhere from 9-to-12 schools. I promise, this isn’t a random range. Let’s do a little college counseling math to understand why. Generally speaking colleges and universities can be placed into one of three categories: reach, target, or likely:

  • Reach: a school where you fall below the academic profile of admitted students AND whose acceptance rate is less than 30%.
  • Target: a school where you match the academic profile of an admitted student AND whose acceptance rate is 31-50%.
  • Likely: a school where you exceed the academic profile of an admitted student AND whose acceptance rate is 51% or greater.

To develop a balanced list you should have approximately 3-4 schools per category…so a quick calculation gets us to the 9-to-12 range. While ensuring enough reach, target, and likely schools creates balance, the schools should also be a good fit. At some point along your college admission journey you will see realize it is both both and art and a science. The science part is looking at the data, and  categorizing a school as a reach, target, or likely. The art part is finding schools that are a good fit. Understanding your definition of “fit” will ultimately help you refine your list.


You will notice that I wrote “your definition of fit”. There is no singular definition, which makes this idea feel overwhelming and complicated to many. Defining fit is a very personal thing. It’s based upon what your goals, aspirations, and needs are. Those characteristics are very different from one person to the next. That’s OK and that’s how it should be! We all aspire to be and do different things in our life. We all define success differently. To craft your definition of fit I suggest thinking about the following categories:

  • Location (geographic and setting)
  • Diversity (racial, cultural, geographic, and other identities important to you)
  • Academics (major offerings, minor offerings, class size, transfer credits, student to faculty ratio, and approach to teaching and learning)
  • Campus life (housing options/policies, student clubs, varsity/intramural/club athletics, and student activities)
  • Cost (average financial aid package, ratio of loans to grant aid, and total cost of attendance)
  • Affiliations (religious, single sex, historically black colleges and universities, and Hispanic serving institutions)

While you can find much of this information by visiting a school’s website, a campus visit can also play role in learning about these areas too. What’s important here is that you have considered these topics as it can help direct your research and determine what questions to ask.

Having a balanced list of schools that are a good fit will be the most efficient and effective strategy because no one can guarantee whether or not you will be admitted. This process is not black and white and knowing whether or not your list is balanced can be tricky. It’s important to remember that you are surrounded by people who can help. As Professor Dumbledore says, “Help will always be given to those who ask for it” (Harry Potter, JK Rowling). Contact me today so we can talk about your list!


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