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One thing that my college counselor advised that I thought was incredibly helpful was for me to make a list of colleges I might be interested in. Most of the schools were ones I had never heard of, and whether I ended up liking them or not, it gave me a stronger sense of what I was looking for. Before going about making your own list, ask your counselor if they can do this for you because they have a larger body of knowledge about colleges to draw from. If they cannot or you are not comfortable asking, here are some tips to make a college list for yourself.

Want, Will, Won’t

A good first step is to make a “want, will, won’t” list of potential college elements. It will help you see what you think you absolutely need in a school, what you can’t imagine being a part of your college experience, and elements you are flexible about.

For example, you may want a school with about 5,000 students undergrad, will be comfortable with 15,000 undergrad, but won’t be okay with more than 15,000 or less than 2,500. This method can apply to location (want to be in a city, will take an hour away from a city, but won’t go to a completely rural campus), academics (want liberal arts, will look at if it’s easy to change major, won’t look at if it’s incredibly specialized), or single sex schools (want co-ed, will consider if near co-ed schools, won’t consider isolated, single-sex schools).

Familiar Schools

Before you start scouring the corners of the earth for college possibilities, think about the first schools that come to mind when I say “college”. Maybe this is where your friend in the grade above is going, or where your parents went, or just a school that people talk about endlessly. While these may not be your ideal schools, it can give you a good variety of schools to consider that don’t fit an exact criteria. Look at these and see what does or does not appeal to you. Maybe you hadn’t thought about schools in other countries, or a university with several specific schools and specialized programs.

Finding the Unknown 

Learning what you don’t know you don’t know can be challenging, but it is doable. College guide books can be really useful because they can recommend three others schools based on one school you are interested in. Fiske Guide to Colleges always has a section called “People interested in this school also looked at…,” and from there you are linked to a never-ending chain of college possibilities.

While you cannot necessarily read about every school in a college guide book, one way to make sure you get some potential diamonds in the rough is to set a goal for yourself. Say you’ll find three potential schools to read more about in all the geographic locations (if you have certain states, regions, or countries you are interested in), and go from there. College guide books are either entirely organized by state or have a section of their index organized by geographic location, so peruse that. You never know what you may find.

I think this is one realm of college list composing where you may need outside help. If you are going to ask your counselor one question, it should be, “what are some great schools for me that I don’t know about?” Again, this can lead to many other questions and dozens of schools to look at. It is a fair way to use your college counselor’s knowledge without harassing them, as may happen if there are only one or two counselor’s for your entire senior class. Talk to your parents, friends, and others who have already been through the process and may know of some far off schools that should be on your radar.

How to Use Your List 

Once you have made your own master list and have had a little birthday party for it, it’s time to put it to good use. Try to look up a certain number of schools per week in your college guide book and/or online. Underline what you like in one color and what you dislike in another. Finally, put down three or four adjectives/phrases about the school for yourself as notes to go over later. All this will help you learn more about what you like and dislike, what you need or can live without, and which schools you want to look into more. Before you know it, a list of 75 schools become 50, then 25, then 10, and it’s time to get out there and visiting those schools, or going right ahead into the application process.

Good luck, and have fun!



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