Creating a reasonable list of schools is one of the keys to a less stressful college application experience.
What many students and parents do not understand is that it is vital to start the process by taking a good, hard look at yourself. Before you even open a college guide or peruse a website, take stock of what you believe will make you happy and successful. Think
in general terms at first:
- What kind of climate do you want to live in?
- How far away from home do you want to be?
- Do you think you’ll thrive in a large school with many times the number of students in your high school graduating class, or would you rather live on a smaller campus with a more nurturing environment?
- Is city life what you crave, or a more rural setting?
If you’ve already begun to form an idea of what you might like to study, add this to the mix as well – although your major may change several times once you enter college, it is a good guide to finding schools that will offer programs that will pique your interest.
After you have spent some introspective time, you can begin to start looking at schools. Now, everyone is special and your cheerleaders, from your parents, to your friends, to your teachers, may tell you that any school would be lucky to have you in their freshman class. But the more honest you are with yourself, the less heartache and panic you’ll risk in the end.
Start by researching and choosing a selection of what I call “foundation schools,” where your grades and test scores place you in the top percentage of applicants who are accepted. These schools will form the basis of your application process, giving you the peace of mind that you will have several choices at least from this group.
Next, research and choose a selection of mid-range schools, where your grades and test scores put you right near the middle of accepted applicants, but where getting in will be a bit more difficult than your foundation schools.
Finally, it’s perfectly fine to choose a few reach schools as well. These are the colleges where your grades and test scores are slightly below the average accepted applicant, but where you feel you may offer something special that will help you overcome your lower academic ranking and give you a chance at acceptance. As I’ve said, be honest with yourself, don’t be overly optimistic, but at the same time don’t judge yourself too harshly. After all, the only schools you can guarantee will not accept you are those where you do not apply.
In all three categories, be sure at least at this point, that these are schools where you really believe you will be successful, comfortable, and happy. Remember – make certain you have a good mix of choices on your list. If you apply only to foundation schools, you may always wonder what opportunities you may have missed; if you apply only to reach schools, you may be setting yourself up for heartbreak.
Now have fun creating a list that excites and inspires you!