Getting Started On Your College List

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March 29, 2016

Creating a best-fit college list is a process that you must commit to.  It takes time, reflection, and research. As you begin creating your list, remember that you want to find a college that will help you grow academically AND personally.  Asking some core questions about yourself during this process and answering honestly is essential for you to zero in on the range of schools that appeal to you. Ready to begin exploring colleges in more depth?  Check out this post on how to research colleges by clicking here

Below are some basic criteria and questions to consider that will help you start the process.  


College Search



You are going to college to learn, right?  Considering the breadth and depth of academic opportunities given your goals is extremely important.  When exploring academics you must look at admissions feasibility given your current academic profile as well as what opportunities are available at the college you are considering.  

  • What are your greatest academic strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What do you enjoy learning about?  If you were told you had a week to study whatever you wanted – what would it be?
  • What do you like about your current school, academically?  What do you wish was different?
  • Do you prefer learning in a small discussion group or in a large lecture class environment? Do you feel you can thrive in both academic environments?
  • Would you be happier being taught by a renowned professor than a graduate student/teaching assistant? How important is class size to you and close interaction with professors?
  • What was your favorite class in high school? Why?
  • How do you handle academic pressure? Do you value a collaborative environment?
  • Do you take a lot of advanced classes? Do you have any learning differences or preferences that might impact your academics and/or the way you like to be taught?


Colleges come in all sizes, from a school in California that enrolls only 26 students to a university like Penn State that can enroll 30,000 or more. Which one is better? That depends on you. Large schools typically have large campuses, as well as a healthy selection of student services and many options; a small college may offer individualized attention, as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. You might even want to think about how far you want to walk to get from one class to another. Even those little details of college info may affect your decision.

  • Are you looking for a big college, mid-size or a small college? Why?  
  • Did you go to a small high school or a large one? What did you like and not like about the size of the high school you attended? 
  • What would appeal to you about going to a large college? What would be your concern? Ask yourself the same questions about a smaller college.
  • Do you like being places where everybody knows you, or do you like the anonymity of a crowd?


You will spend 4 years, not only learning, but living in the community you choose.  Is it sunshine all the time or do you want to experience seasons?  Is it a thriving city, a hip college town, or a more rural nature experience?  When considering location, there is a lot to explore.  

When thinking about location, you should also consider campus environment.  If you can't live without nightlife, think city or big college town. If you're into the great outdoors, you might want to go rural. If you've always lived in the suburbs, an urban campus can be an adventure. But after a few weeks, will you yearn for grassy fields and open space? On the other hand, if you're used to malls and movie theaters and choose a college in a rural area, will you be racing into the student center at midnight, desperately seeking noise, lights, and people? When examining the options in a college guide, think about where you grew up and how much of a change you want.   

  • Do you have a specific distance, geographic location, or campus environment in mind?  Why? 
  • Do you want a traditional college experience, more of a city experience, or a mixture of both?
  • What do you need to have nearby to be happy?
  • How often do you want to come home?  How will you get there and what will it cost?
  • Is weather important to you?  In what way?
  • What do you like about your local community that you grew up in?  What do you want to be different?


Considering the school culture and social life is an extremely important part of the college search process.  When looking at the non-academic side of college you should consider diversity, activities and organizations, athletics, Greek life, and housing..  

Some students want their college experience to have a vibrant sports culture where they are a part of a broader school community cheering on the teams year round.  Others want a different type of community feel – maybe more independent where everyone does their own thing?  Perhaps students can be found spending their weekends on the community farm?  It is vital to consider how you want to spend your weekends and if your fellow peers share the same interests.  

You should try to get a copy of the main campus paper (you can access them online) and journals, and leaf through the pages and get a feeling for the vibe. Look at their social media: instagram, snapchat, twitter, and YouTube.

How integrated are students with the nearby community and do students participate in social activities off campus, or is the campus the main source of cultural activity? What sort of speakers and concerts come to the campus? How many of a college’s or university’s students are coming from other countries? Having a global perspective in the classroom will add a dimension to class discussions.

  • Schools have different cultures, while all campuses will have some type of diversity across the board.  Many colleges do not have a distinct “type” of student while others are known to attract let's say more conservative or liberal students for example.  How important is a diverse campus to you?  What types of diversity on campus are important to you and in which way?
  • Do you want a school with Greek life?  If so, do you want it to dominate the     social scene or be one of many social options?  How will you feel if you don’t get into the sorority or fraternity you hoped for?
  • What social issues, values, and lifestyle or cultural considerations are important to you?  What do you need on campus to feel connected to these?
  • What clubs or organizations are important to you to have on campus?  
  • What do you envision doing with your time when you are not in class or doing homework?

Once you know what matters most to you, NOW you can begin to identify schools that align with your needs and wants.  After you have created your best-fit list, it is important to start connecting with the schools to demonstrate your interest.  Learn more about demonstrated interest here.  

Need some help crafting your best-fit college list?  Contact us!