How To Make a College List

College applications don’t have to be stressful. Okay, maybe they do, but it’s very important to know that the colleges you’re applying to fit both your personality and your desired career path (and budget). College is extremely expensive, and you should do your best to discover which school will be worth the price for your personal goals.

In the United States alone, there are thousands of institutions of higher education. This can certainly feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon be able to narrow down a list of schools that you’ll want to apply to.

Programs

Although it’s not necessary for you to decide exactly what you want to study right now, it’s a good idea to have a couple of career options in mind when you’re considering schools. Some schools have better history or engineering programs than others, and some schools may not offer a major in what you want to study. As you can see, it’s very important that the schools you’re applying to actually cater to your academic interests.

Type

In the United States, there are two “types” of colleges: liberal arts and research. There’s often an overlap between these types of schools, but there are some distinct differences between the two. Liberal arts colleges are often very small (fewer than 5,000 students). Additionally, these colleges tend to promote a well-rounded education in a wide range of subjects. In contrast, research universities are typically larger (though not in all cases) and more angular in terms of studies. This means that you won’t necessarily have to take a history course when you’re a mathematics major. However, these definitions of liberal arts and research schools aren’t always accurate. Several research universities (such as Columbia University and the University of Chicago) have core curriculums in which every student is required to take certain classes, while some schools (such as Brown University, Wesleyan University) have no requirements except for those for your intended major. You may prefer one type of school to another, so be sure to look into the curriculum type of the colleges you are interested in.

Size

Do you want to be able to walk around campus and know every single person you pass? Or would you prefer to be surrounded by a city of students that you have yet to meet? Or maybe you would like to be somewhere in the middle? There are many pros and cons to each type of school. For example, a small school may feel suffocating to you because you know everyone, but you’ll be more likely to get individual attention from professors, small class sizes, and more opportunities for internships and research. At a large university, you’ll essentially be able to see and meet any type of person you want to, but you may end up feeling like a number in a lecture hall that seats 300 other students. This all depends on what your preference is.

Finances

For the majority of people applying to college, looking at the price tag can incite many splitting headaches. It doesn’t have to be like that, though. There are many ways to cut down the price of college, whether by attending a community college for the first two years and then transferring to a university, attending a state school and/or applying for scholarships. Another thing to remember about the price of college is that most of the time, the “sticker price” (cost of attendance without any financial aid) is often not actually what you will have to pay to attend the college. Every college differs in how generous it is with financial aid, for example, NYU is known for its stinginess regarding aid, while Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME was ranked #1 on The Princeton Review’s “Great Financial Aid” list. Schools that report that they meet 100% demonstrated financial need will usually provide you with enough aid (whether through grants and/or loans) to attend. This demonstrated need is calculated through the FAFSA. No matter what your income is, you should fill out the FAFSA. You could be surprised at the amount of aid you could receive.

Location

College could be your chance to live where you’ve always wanted, whether it be a new city or a different coast or state, you have the choice in where you end up. Think about whether or not you want to be far away from your family or if you would even like to save some money and live at home while attending school.

Personality

This category is a little more subjective. Each college has a different overall personality that you should look into to see if you would like it. Some schools are huge on sports (University of Michigan, Penn State University, University of Florida), while others couldn’t care less. Some schools are known for partying (Note: Practically every college has parties and alcohol, but some schools are certainly a little wilder than others). Perhaps you’re interested or staunchly against Greek life. These are all things that you should consider when you’re looking for schools that truly fit your personality and interests.

Selectivity

When considering how selective a school is, be realistic, but also branch out. If you haven’t already, take the SAT or ACT (or both), and compare your score(s) to the average scores of students accepted to the colleges that you’re interested in. You should certainly aim higher and apply to schools that you may not get into but still like a lot, but you shouldn’t apply to a school just because it’s prestigious. For example, it’s quite honestly a terrible idea to apply to all of the Ivy League school’s just because they’re well-known and selective. There’s a very small chance that you would actually be happy and fit in at all of those schools, as they each have different values and personalities. What’s most important in your college decision is that the school is somewhere where you will be happy and make great friendships while still getting a good education and job opportunities. With that being said, this is your time to find the perfect place for you to jumpstart your future! Apply to your dream school that may seem a little out of reach, because you only have a shot at getting in if you try! Be sure to also apply to schools that you know you have a good chance of getting into (your test scores/GPA are at or above the average at the school), because college admissions are very competitive, and you don’t want to put all of your hopes into one super selective school.

Once you have a list of schools you think you’re interested in applying to, you may need to cut down (or expand!) your list. Applying to college can get pretty expensive, especially with countless application fees and fees to send in your test scores, so make sure you know your limits. Additionally, applying to too many schools can really stress you out, especially if these schools all have supplemental essay prompts. Figure out what would be a good number for you (and your wallet). It’s also a good idea to visit some colleges (if you have the ability to), in order to see if you actually like them. You may love a school based on what you read about, but not love the campus when you actually visit. Or maybe you don’t think a school is the right fit for you, but then you visit it and end up loving it.

Finally, the most important thing to remember when picking schools to apply to is to know that your self worth isn’t dependent on the college you go to. If you end up getting rejected from your dream school, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. There are people with 4.0 GPAs and perfect SAT scores who still get rejected from top schools. Rejection is just a part of the college application process that you may have to go through, but it won’t be the end of the world. You’ll end up at a great school and have a bright future no matter where you end up.

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