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How to Create a College List

Here are some helpful strategies that can help you create your college list:

1. Identify your priorities.

Identify what factors are most important to you, such as location, size, academic programs, extracurricular activities, and cost.

Location: Think about the geographical location. Do you prefer an urban, suburban, or rural setting? Consider factors like climate, proximity to home, and accessibility to certain activities or resources.

Size and Culture: Determine the size of the student body you're comfortable with. Some students prefer a small, tight-knit community while others thrive in larger, diverse environments.

Cost and Financial Aid: Assess the cost of attendance and the availability of financial aid or scholarships. Consider your financial situation and whether the college offers the support you need.

Campus Facilities and Resources: Look into the facilities available on campus,such as libraries, laboratories, sports facilities, etc. Are there specific resources or extracurricular activities that are important to you?

Career Opportunities and Alumni Network: Investigate the college's career services and opportunities for internships or job placements. A strong alumni network can be beneficial for future career prospects.

Personal Preferences: Consider your personal factors such as campus diversity, extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, and any special needs you might have.

2. Research potential schools.

Research potential schools by reviewing their websites, talking to admissions counselors, or visiting the campus to get a feel for the school's environment and culture.

  • College Websites: Start with the college's official website. Look into their academic programs, faculty, campus facilities, admission requirements, and any unique opportunities they offer. Pay attention to mission statements and values to see if they align with your own.

  • Virtual Tours and Videos: Many colleges offer virtual tours, videos, or interactive maps showcasing their campuses. Explore these to get a feel for the environment, dorms, classrooms, and facilities.

  • College Fairs and Information Sessions: Attend college fairs, information sessions, or webinars hosted by the colleges or educational organizations. These events often provide insights and allow you to ask questions directly to admission representatives.

  • Talk to Current Students and Alumni: Reach out to current students or alumni through social media platforms, forums, or alumni networks. They can offer valuable insights into their experiences, campus life, academic rigor, and career prospects.

3. Research academic programs.

Consider the academic programs offered by the school and whether they align with your interests and career goals.

Review the list of majors and minors available at each college. Ensure they offer your preferred field of study. Additionally, check if they provide flexibility in case you want to change or double major/minor.

Look into the curriculum structure and specific courses offered within your intended major. Are there specialized tracks, concentrations, or unique courses that appeal to you?

Investigate the faculty members in your area of interest. Check their credentials, research interests, and involvement in industry or academia. A strong faculty can provide mentorship and opportunities for research or internships.

Explore if the college has partnerships with companies or organizations offering internships or practical experiences related to your field. Experiential learning is invaluable for gaining hands-on skills.

If studying abroad interests you, check if the college offers robust study abroad or exchange programs. Look into the countries and universities they are partnered with for this purpose.

Research the success rate of graduates in your field in securing jobs or admission to graduate programs. A college with a strong track record of placing graduates in reputable companies or graduate schools might be appealing.

Some colleges offer unique programs, initiatives, or centers related to specific fields. Explore if any such programs align with your interests and could enhance your academic experience.

4. Review financial aid options.

Review the school's financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, and loans, to determine the affordability of attending the school. Most colleges have a net price calculator on their websites. Use these calculators to estimate the cost of attendance after factoring in grants and scholarships. This gives you an idea of the actual expenses you might incur.

Understand the criteria for merit-based scholarships. Some colleges offer scholarships based on academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, talents, leadership, or community service. Evaluate your eligibility for these scholarships.

Some colleges also offer need-based aid based on your family's financial situation. Check if the college requires specific forms such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the CSS Profile for need-based aid consideration.

Once you receive financial aid offers, compare them across colleges. Consider not just the total amount offered but also the breakdown between grants, scholarships, and loans, as well as the terms and conditions of the aid.

If you have questions or need clarifications regarding financial aid options, contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you're interested in. They can provide personalized guidance and additional information.

You can also explore external scholarship opportunities from community organizations, foundations, or private institutions. These can supplement college-based aid.

5. Look at student support services.

Research if the college has academic support centers offering tutoring, writing labs, or supplemental instruction. These services can help students excel in their coursework.

Look into the availability of academic advisors who can guide you through course selection, career planning, and academic goals. Also, explore counseling services for mental health support and well-being.

Assess the career services offered by the college. Look for resources such as resume building, interview preparation, job fairs, internships, and networking opportunities. Strong career services can facilitate post-graduation success.

Check for health services available on campus, including medical facilities, counseling centers, wellness programs, and health insurance options for students.

Explore the variety and vibrancy of student clubs and organizations available on campus. Engaging in extracurricular activities can enrich your college experience and provide opportunities for leadership and social connections.

Consider the quality of on-campus housing and the support provided by residential staff. Services like peer mentoring, residence hall programming, and support for a safe living environment matter.

Look for workshops or programs that provide guidance on budgeting, financial planning, and managing student loans. These resources can be valuable for financial wellness.

Consider the accessibility and availability of these support services. Are they easily accessible to all students, and are they adequately staffed to meet student needs?

6. Use “This or That” questions that can help you identify the traits of your ideal campus.

Parents and children are most likely to encounter differences when developing a college list together. Please talk openly and honestly about your choice and choose the one that best describes your family’s decision.

College Size 




Close to home


Campus Setting 

College Town 

Major City 

Campus Size (small, medium, large)

An important factor

Not an important factor


An important factor

Not an important factor


An important factor 

Not an important factor 



Not a must 

Campus Food 

Must be good 

Not a must 

Social atmosphere 



What feels right? 

Focused on academics

Focused on internships 

What feels right? 



What feels right? 



What do I want? 

Getting into my dream school 

Full-ride scholarship from a college with decent reputation

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