Your college choice will impact how much you pay for college, how much you enjoy those years, how much you will learn, who you will become, what you will do after college, and how successful you will be. Given its importance, it makes sense to do your due diligence when making a college list. Here are the best methods for making and refining your college list:
First, use a college search tool to build your college list. These are the three best colleges search tools:
- CollegeVine: This college search platform is the best, simply amazing. You input your info (GPA, test scores, desired major, etc), and it puts together a customized college list of safety, target, hard target, and reach schools for you. And, it will give you a rough estimate of your chances of admission to those schools and let you see how changing your GPA, test scores, AP courses, etc will affect those chances. With a few clicks, you can filter by almost any metric, see those schools laid out on a map so that you can see which ones are close, etc. This is where you could start and end making a college list.
- College Board’s Big Future: Not quite as good as CollegeVine but still worth using just to get a second perspective and do your due diligence. It also has some nice filters, such as affordability, that can be useful.
- CollegeSimply: I wouldn’t use this to build the college list, but I like to use it for additional information on the schools in a list. I like how it lays out the information, shows average income of graduates, etc.
Second, once you have your school list, dive into the details of each school. To do so, I recommend you use these three resources:
- The Best 386 Colleges – 2021 Edition (the 2022 edition will be released on August 31, 2021, so you might want to wait for that). If you are going to get only one book, then my preference is this book over the Fiske Guide.
- Fiske Guide to Colleges
- In your school Naviance account, look at the scatterplot graphs of the colleges on your list. At most colleges, applicants from the same school are compared to one another in the admissions process, so the most accurate data on what GPA and SAT/ACT scores you need to get accepted at a given college will be found here.
You may want to consult a quality college counselor for additional help. Good college counselors (in addition to helping with everything else from high school course selection, summer internships, college essays, etc) can give valuable information about the nuances of each school. For instance, although a school might be on your safety list, it might have an engineering program that rivals that of your target or reach schools. But, because it is ranked lower, you might gain admittance more easily, be more likely to get a scholarship, and still get the same career prospects in engineering.
Third, once you have refined your list, go visit! You’ll want to do so for two reasons:
- You need to get a sense of whether the school will be a good fit. If a school offers interviews, try to do an interview with a college admissions officer (or at least an alumnus of the college) –– apart from potentially helping you with admission, the interview will help you learn more about the school and if it’s a good fit for you. Of course do the college tour, but also try to do an overnight stay if the college offers one — these give a much more authentic look at the college, dorm life, the cafeteria food, and the personality of the school. Talk to some students and see what they say about the school.
- Schools track whether you visit them, and doing so can literally make or break your admission into colleges that use “demonstrated interest” in admission decisions (and most do use it). If you tell Lehigh University that they are your #1 choice, but they see that you’ve never visited, then they’re not going to believe you (unless you’re doing Early Decision, but still they’ll wonder why you did not visit… and, really, why would you do binding early decision to a school without visiting?). See the addendum below for more information on “demonstrated interest” and why it is important.
Where you go to college does not define you, but it is still a very important decision. Hopefully this post gives you some tools to help improve the ease and quality of that decision. Questions? We love answering questions. Feel free to reach out to us any time.
Visiting a school goes into assessing a student’s “demonstrated interest.” And demonstrated interest is of paramount importance for colleges aiming to protect or improve their yield rate (which all colleges are aiming to do). The yield rate is calculated by dividing the number of students who are accepted and enroll by the total number of students who were accepted (which also includes those who were accepted and did not enroll). For instance, if 100 students are given acceptance letters and 20 of them choose to enroll, then the school has a 20% yield rate (20 divided by 100). The higher the yield rate (which shows that accepted students actually want to attend and that most students are not using that school as a safety school in which they’ll likely get admitted but then choose not to attend), the higher the prestige of the college. And, the more you demonstrate your interest in a college, the more the college will assume you’ll enroll if given an acceptance from them, which will boost their yield rate. So, in short, demonstrate interest — it could make or break whether a college offers you an acceptance letter. And, to do that, go visit the colleges to which you apply (unless you have a reason, such as financial constraints, that prohibit you from doing so, but then make sure to tell the college that so that they don’t make any negative and mistaken judgments about you — which, by the way, is always true: never leave the admissions officers to make their own assumptions if there is something negative in your application). Here is a great article on other ways to boost your demonstrated interest to colleges: Forbes Article.