• Beth & Tim Manners

The ‘Just Right’ College List

Updated: Sep 21, 2019

This season, colleges reported a record number of applicants, making it even harder to get in. What does this mean to current high-school students? It means you need to put together the right list of colleges for you. Juniors should be working on their “college list” now. Putting together a smart list is the key to having lots of options and success. What makes a good list?


Academic Fit. First and foremost is academic match. What types of students were accepted recently? What level of grades and scores did they have? How much rigor (how many AP and honors courses) is expected? What is your academic vision and which schools will help you get there?


Selectivity. Colleges publish their acceptance rates. Some are as low as 6%, while others can be as high as 80%. You must consider these statistics while building your list. The highly selective schools require more than top academic performance. Leadership, extracurricular activities that show initiative, and well-written applications and essays will help you compete. However, just because a school is selective does not make it the right fit for you.


What To Study? Review the offered majors and minors for all the schools on your list. You do not have to know what your major will be, however each school on your list should have at least two or three areas of study that you find enticing. Also, review the curriculum. Some students will thrive in a structured curriculum while others want more freedom to explore and perhaps build their own major.


What About Size? The experience at a large university versus a small college could not be more different. You must consider what type of learner you are. If you learn through class participation and discussion, you may prefer the small classes and mentoring that is common in schools with under 5,000 undergraduates. If you are open to attending large lectures and are comfortable with some “self-teaching,” you may enjoy the prodigious opportunities in a large university.


Social Fit. You will be leaving home and living on-campus. You want to find a place where you are comfortable and that will meet your expectations for broadening your horizons. The best way to evaluate social fit is to visit schools and see how it feels. Go with your gut.


Go Broad. You are growing in every way. You may have deep or developing interests — science, music production, forensics or film. Colleges report that 40% of students change their majors; my experience has been that students sometimes change their interests during the college application process itself. So, it is important not to choose too narrow a focus. Think about options. What if I try economics and don’t like it? What if I change my mind? Will the schools on my list still work? Cast a wide net.


Follow Your Dreams. College is all about exploring and trying new things. Do you want to study abroad, conduct original research, attend D1 sporting events or simply meet friends and play Frisbee? Your path is your own – do your own investigation and put together a list that will help you make it all happen.

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