It is a big decision to choose a college — one that will affect your career opportunities, challenges, and life trajectory. Applying to more than one college will give you a greater chance of acceptance, as well as allow you to weigh some options before selecting a school. Moreover, you can refer to our previous blog for more information about Early Decisions and Early Action.

Strategy to Build a College List:

It is likely that your college list will differ from anyone else’s. Consider career goals, financial situation, school size, public vs. private institution, in-state vs. out-of-state, and even student groups.

1. Ask yourself some questions

Answering questions like these will help you focus your college search:

  • What am I interested in?
  • How do I spend my free time?
  • What do I feel passionate about?
  • How do I learn best?
  • What do I think I want to do in the future?

2. Get to know the options

Discover your college preferences and learn about basic college categories at College Search Step-by-Step. College students and educators offer advice on how to search for colleges and how to choose a school.

3. Decide what matters most to you

There are some students who place a great deal of importance on sports and activities. There are also students who want to be challenged academically. Review your answers to Step 1. Who do they think you are and what colleges you might like?

4. Search for colleges

Find colleges that match your preferences by using the College Search tool. Find a college that meets your needs by choosing a location, a major, a size, and more.

a)      Add colleges to your list

View individual profiles of colleges that appear in your ‘College Search’. If you find a college that you like, you can add it to a favorites list by clicking on the “Add to List” button.

Sort Your List:

At the College Board, they introduce test scores as one additional factor to weigh as you refine your list: you should split your list into three categories: safety schools, match schools and reach schools.

  • Safety schools: The academic qualifications you possess are higher than those of the average freshman admitted to a safety school. You’ll score in the top 25% on your tests and have a high GPA. Additionally, safety schools have a reasonable acceptance rate of about 40-45%. They are colleges that you think you will be able to attend and have a good chance of getting into. Colleges you would enjoy attending should also be on your list.
  • Match schools:  Matching or target schools are those with similar academic qualifications as the average freshman. You should score in the middle 50% of applicants, and you should be accepted by a university with an acceptance rate of 30-40% or higher. In general, these are colleges you think you have a good chance of getting into, as well as colleges you believe are a good match for you.
  • Reach schools. You have lower academic qualifications for reaching schools but still fall within the range of some admitted freshmen (bottom 25%). It is typical for reach schools to have an acceptance rate under 30%. It is a reach for all students if the acceptance rate is in the teens or single digits, regardless of their academic credentials.

Student Tiers:

Tiers refer to the highest quality of academics, infrastructure, faculty, research, placements, alumni networks, and national/international presence of colleges. A tier 2 college has middle-range facilities of the above parameters, whereas a tier 3 college falls even further behind.

  • Tier 1: These students are in the top 5% of their class, a 3.9/4.0 for their unweighted GPA, have high standardized test scores. Tier 1 students interested in the most competitive schools apply to 15 reach schools, 2-4 target schools, and 1 safety school.
  • Tier 2: These students are in the top 10% of their class, and have high standardized test scores (1470-1530 SATs, 32-34 on ACTs. Tier 2 students interested in the most competitive programs apply to 10 reach schools, 5 target schools, and 2 safety schools. 
  • Tier 3: These students are in the top 20% of their class, and have good standardized test scores (1400-1470 SATs, 30-32 ACTs). Tier 3 students interested in the most competitive programs apply to 5-6 reach schools, 5-10 target schools, and 2-3 safety schools.