There are more than 2,000 four-year colleges in the United States to choose from. When starting the college admissions process, make sure that you research schools with programs that best suit you. Your initial list can be as long as you’d like, but you should keep in mind that applying to every university on your list will not be practical (or possible). Being decisive about your academic and personal goals can help you pare down the list to a more manageable size.

In addition to academic interests, consider other factors: environment, geography, size and distance from home. Some universities are in small towns, while others are at the center of major cities – and others are rural. Do you prefer cooler weather to warmer weather – or do you want to experience all four seasons? How big is your ideal college? The same size as your high school, or ten times bigger? Or something in between? Finally, how far from home do you want to be for the next four years?

You should plan on applying to anywhere from seven to ten schools. If you choose to apply to more than ten, you may be casting your net too wide. Every college application you submit will cost both time and money. If you apply to too many colleges, you may not be spending enough time on each application – resulting in errors and oversights. By applying to a limited number, you can set personal deadlines for writing and editing your essays and completing each application.

Your list of colleges should be varied. The list should include two safety schools, those where you are extremely confident about your admissibility; two to four match schools, where you think you will most likely be accepted based on your academic profile; and two reach schools. (Reach schools are those where your grades and scores are below those of the average student. Note that even if your grades and scores match or exceed the average, some universities admit such a small percentage of students that these schools should still be designated as reach.)

Look at the list you’ve created. Are you happy with your safety schools? Will you attend these if not admitted to the other colleges on your list? Do you have a mix of school types? Do the universities on your list offer your academic areas of interest? Can you see yourself as a student at all of these colleges?

The college search process does not happen overnight – instead, creating a list takes time to start, refine and re-create. Start now so that you’ll be ready to tour schools when they re-open to visitors.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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