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5 Building Blocks to a Balanced College List

by Michelle Sheu, on Jul 16, 2018 9:20:00 AM

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are over 6,000 colleges and universities in America alone. For the wanderlust students, there are even more options when you include international universities. With the masses of schools awaiting your application, how can you be sure to select the right ones that best suit your interests, growth and development?

Don’t let the options intimidate you! In regards to selecting colleges, you are in charge of your own fate. As you begin your college planning research and actualize all sorts of ideas and hopes you’d envision for prospective colleges, you gradually narrow down your list. This could be an incredibly daunting and tedious process. But, if you keep the following criteria in mind (which you can adjust to fit your unique priorities), you will simplify the college process by tenfold.


  • Take into consideration potential scholarships you may receive, and financial aid depending on your expected family contribution (EFC).


  • Is this school in a viable location? How are the career options in the area? Would you able to intern as you study or be connected to many opportunities in the region? Is it rural, suburban or urban? Would the travel back home during breaks be affordable?


  • Would you feel more comfortable in a close community of only 2,500 classmates? Or maybe 25,000 classmates?


  • What values, traditions and overall atmosphere are you looking for? Greek life or nah? Also, consider the food options for those with dietary restrictions.

Major / Area of Study

  • If you have an idea of what you’d like to study -- choosing one of either S.T.E.M. fields, business or liberal arts might help to drastically narrow down your list.

Did you find yourself nodding to some of these suggestions? Gathering an idea of where you can imagine yourself for the next few years based on this simplified breakdown will help tremendously on the next steps of the process.

A healthy amount of schools to apply to accounts for all sorts of scenarios, because you can never be too sure about a decision or of other extenuating circumstances. Composing your college list requires honesty with a self-assessment of your holistic application including your GPA, testing scores, extracurriculars, essays and other meritable accomplishments. Sorting your college list into three categories of likelies, targets and reaches is when you bust out your brag-worthy strengths and weaknesses to determine which schools fall under which categories.

At the minimum, I would suggest at least three schools for each category so that you can bask in the options. Extensive research and honesty are crucial in this stage, you do not want your likelies to end up being reaches or other similar sticky situations.

You might be looking at a lengthy list that drags to your feet right about now. Now the fun part comes with college road trips, prospective student nights and hitting up current students at colleges you might be interested in. Remember to keep an open mind and use this opportunity to really explore what you’re interested in! Being the starry-eyed dreamer that I am, I hope you are also able to find the school of your wildest imagination and glory.

Best of luck drawing up your college hit list!

Michelle is a student at the Macaulay Honors College of Baruch College in NYC. She studies just about everything she can fit in her schedule, with a major in Graphic Communications and tiers of minors in Psychology, Spanish and Interdisciplinary NYC Studies. Her favorite part of college life is the fact that she can join such diverse clubs ranging from Undergraduate Student Government to New Media Lab, and the free food at club events.

Topics:college admission