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Creating your College List: When to Do it and How to Base Your Decision

How To Create Your College ListAs a student, you’ll have difficult choices to make regarding your educational career.  Certain choices like whether or not to take band with your best friend or sign up for drama classes will be easy, while other choices, such as where to apply to college, will be difficult.

When it comes to making difficult choices, some people tend to procrastinate to avoid the inevitable.  Unfortunately, when it comes down to choosing where to go to college, the worst thing a student can do is procrastinate because the college you choose is arguably going to be one of the most meaningful choices you’ll make in your life.

So, what’s next? How do you make that choice? And when do you make it?

First, when deciding which colleges to apply to, it’s best to keep a running list, because your interests might change from one day to the next.  Not to say that prospective college students are fickle, but it’s not unheard of for a student to be interested in one college because of the college’s extracurricular offerings and another college for its academic offerings.

Along those lines, you might be asking yourself, how should you base your decision?  What colleges should go on your college list and why?  Not to sound trite, but there really isn’t a correct answer to this question.  Everyone has a reason for choosing one college over another.  Maybe college A offers full scholarships to softball players and you’ve been playing softball since you were 5.  Maybe college B is one of the few schools in the nation that specializes in aeronautical engineering and you’ve always wanted to build planes. 

These examples show that students like yourselves have varying interests, so create your list based on those interests.  However, keep in mind that a college doesn’t have to have it all to be included on your list.  For example, if you want a college with great school pride, that’s only an hour away from your home town, and is world-renowned for its language program, you might have difficulties finding one that meets your criteria exactly, but you might find a school that meets some of your criteria.  Go ahead and add it to your list because sometimes interests change and it’s important to find a college that offers a variety of programs and activities, just in case you find yourself suddenly interested in accounting, while actually studying art.

It's important to also consider other factors when creating your college list.  For example, your college list should be realistic.  It should list your top choice schools and list your safety schools.  You’ll also want to consider funding, because ultimately, you’ll need to be able to afford the school you decide to attend. Hence, the safety school on your list could just be the college option for you that would be less expensive for your family – while still boasting terrific academics and extracurriculars. 

Next, don’t add schools to your list based on your friends’ lists.  Yes, it’s great to have friends from home go with you to college, but there’s nothing wrong with striking off alone either.  People grow while in college, meaning people change.  The people you are friends with now in high school might not be the same people you’re friends with in college.  Similarly, don’t add a school to your list just because a family member went there before you.  Family tradition is important and so is maintaining contact with friends, but ultimately, your list should represent your wants and needs, not the hopes and wishes of others. Remember: your college experience will be yours alone. 

Finally, you may be wondering, “When should I start this list?”  Ideally, as early as possible.  Most people don’t start seriously looking at colleges until their junior year in high school.  This is a mistake.  Your list can and will change as you learn more about yourself and as you research colleges, so you need to give yourself ample time to truly determine where you want to spend four years of your life, which means that you need to start your list early.  In fact, you might start your list in ninth grade with three colleges that you’re interested in, but by eleventh grade might completely change your mind. Interests change and what we consider important one day may be different the next. This is perfectly normal and common. Luckily, if you start your list early, it’ll give you time to thoroughly research your options, discover where you really want to be, and ultimately help you be better prepared (not to mention, better organized) when you do start the actual application process.

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