College List

Creating the Perfect College List

The creation of your college list is where your strategic plan for admission begins. Not only must you find colleges that fit your desired college experience, you must also formulate a strategic narrative that allows colleges to see you in the best possible light. And while the specific colleges in your college list may change, it is nonetheless advisable to begin the process of formulating your list as early as 9th or 10th grade.

Would you be happier at a small college or a large university? Would you thrive more in smaller classes with a lot of interaction or in larger settings? Would you be happy attending a college in a rural setting knowing that the vast majority of your time would be spent on campus, or would you prefer to be closer to the action offered by a college located in or near a big city?

Socially, ask yourself if you would be happier living in a dorm with many students of disparate interests and backgrounds. Or, would you prefer a college with a strong Greek culture – where many students live off campus in fraternities or sororities? Would you be happier at a school with a strong sports culture, arts culture, or music culture? Do you prefer a competitive environment, where students are driven by competition to perform, or one where collaboration in the campus vibe?

Academically, would you be happier studying to be an engineer, a researcher, a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessperson? Various colleges are clearly stronger in some of these areas than in others. Therefore, any college list should consider these factors. Geographically, would you be happier in a particular region of the country? Would you prefer to be in a year-round warm weather climate, or one in which there are seasons? And then of course there are the issues of religious and political orientations. Would you be happier at a religious-based college, a politically conservative college, or a more liberal, non-religiously affiliated college?

This is not to discount the importance of college ranking as one legitimate factor that would make you happy. Certainly, we can all take pride in reaching the top, whether that be the top of college rankings, the top of a corporate structure, or the highest possible heights in athletics, arts, music, or academic competitions. The point is that college rank should be only one of many factors to consider when creating a college list. Every college on that list should be a top choice, one designed to bring you years of happiness and a lifetime of accomplishments.

College List Generator: considers the weight that each college places on upwards of 30 individual admission characteristics. For example, Harvard might assign a higher value to student research or internships, while Williams might assign a higher value to community service. By providing you with detailed guidance on how to rate yourself on each of these 30 characteristics, generates an accurate ratio of each student’s admission strengths to the priorities and policies of 100 top US colleges. A sequence of graphical meters illustrates the likelihood of admission at each college from “highly improbable” to “very possible.” This allows you to populate your list with an informed selection of reach, target, and safety schools. If any of these admission factors changes—for example if you achieve a higher test score—you can easily change it in the portal and will automatically recalculate your chance of admission for each college.

You begin by taking a brief seven-question survey on campus and culture preferences. This generates an initial list of colleges that match your wish-list of factors such as campus size, geography, rank, and culture. From there, you will be prompted to fill out a more detailed survey that takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. Based on your responses to the second survey, you are provided with a list of 100 colleges that can be sorted by your likelihood of admission success, or by other factors. By clicking on the heart icon, you can add colleges of interest to your own personal college list. also provides information such as average test scores and percentage of admitted students in the top 10% of their high school class, as well as links to each college website, and clickable admission office email addresses.

College List: Factors to Consider

More than anything, college is a place to learn, to grow, to experience, and to explore a pathway that may lead to a lifelong passion and rewarding career.

For many parents and students, the names of prestigious colleges are like bright, shiny objects dangling in the night sky. College names play a disproportionately important role in the creation of a college list, despite the fact that names have little to do with the nature or qualidty of experiences students will encounter over the next four years. Also, some parents and students discount entirely the possibility of attending a public college simply because it is not a private school, as if the mere fact of being publicly funded and administered somehow diminishes a college’s prestige or quality. Of course, this is nonsense. Furthermore, many students place a value on attending college near a big city, or other factors such as diversity, number of clubs and organizations, or even climate. We are not saying that these factors should not be considered, however they should not be the primary factors used in deciding which college to attend.

How Important Is a College Name?

A college name is like a doorway. College is what is behind the doorway. What a shame it would be if you did not open a door that led to a remarkable college experience simply because you did not like the color, or shape, or texture of the door. In order to make an appropriate decision about where to apply to college, you must know something about the landscape that you will encounter once you open that door. At least 75% of the college experience is about classes, assignments, and studying. Perhaps another 15% is about the campus experience and the remaining 10% is about everything else including location, climate, and diversity. You should not completely discount these factors, but the vast majority of a student's time is going to be spent in class, writing papers, conducting research, and studying for tests. So, more than anything, a college list should be based on what you expect (or hope) to study or learn at college.

We believe that there are two factors that should rise above all others when forming your college list. The first one is size. Large universities tend to have more lectures and fewer small classes than small- or medium-sized universities or liberal arts colleges. Also, attending a large university has a very different feel than attending a smaller college. Know your preferences and decide based on which environment makes you most comfortable.

The second factor is academics. Your college list should comprise schools that have strong departments in the areas that you intend to study. Furthermore, many students have a secondary interest that they would like to continue to pursue in college. For example, if you have been playing an instrument for many years and would like to consider a minor or concentration in music, you might want to choose colleges that would offer you that opportunity. Perhaps you want to major in economics but have a minor in mathematics. Find a school that will allow you to do this. If you want to program computers, you should not necessarily apply to a school that specializes in computer engineering because they focus much more on hardware, interfaces, and systems. If you love to write, look for colleges that have strong writing departments.

College List: Liberal Arts vs. University

Asking which is better, a liberal arts college or a university, is like asking which team is better: the 1962 Green Bay Packers in football or the 1996 Chicago Bulls in basketball: they simply can’t be compared. One would not expect to obtain the same skills at MIT as one would at Amherst, nor would anyone desirous of a university experience replete with significant scientific research ever think of choosing Bowdoin over Georgia Tech or Pomona over Carnegie Mellon. Similarly, one would not expect to have the same range of humanities classes, or as high level a creative writing program, at Johns Hopkins as at Middlebury. These obvious truisms don't for one second try to support a case that one type of college is better than another. One could certainly argue that the type of well-rounded education one expects from a liberal arts school is more valuable than one that leads more directly to a career, such as with a business or math or science program. Or not. After all, value is in the eye of the beholder.

The vast majority of colleges, whether they are liberal arts or universities, require you to take courses to fulfill core requirements that stretch across the entire academic spectrum including math, English, languages, science, and the arts. In that sense, both types of institutions provide you with a well-rounded academic experience. The main difference between universities and liberal arts colleges is that universities tend to have both undergraduate and graduate programs whereas liberal arts colleges add to focus on undergraduate studies.

At most Ivy League colleges, students tend to get the best of both worlds – a liberal arts education and the advantages of an institution with vast worldwide resources. The thing you give up there is the small class size and deeper relationships with faculty that you typically get at a small rural or suburban liberal arts school. Even this statement crosses the line of overgeneralization. Each college experience is different. Each has its own unique qualities and singular advantages. Before you “write off” Bates, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Pomona, Swarthmore, Colby, Colgate, or Carleton simply because they aren’t ranked with the national universities on US News and World Report, consider again the advantages of small class size, personal relationships with professors, and the real-life skills that may take you to the highest heights in the working world. In other words, at least consider earning a liberal arts degree from a liberal arts college, even if it’s not ranked in the proverbial “Top 10” of national universities.

College List: Public (State) College vs. Private College

Many public colleges are among the best institutions of higher learning in the entire world. Some of the more well-known examples include UCLA, UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia (UVA), Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina (UNC), Virginia Tech, and William and Mary. The level of education, opportunities, and resources provided by these institutions is every bit as valuable as that provided by most private institutions. Further, some favorable factors are only available at public colleges. For one, they tend to be far less expensive than private colleges. This is true across-the-board for all students, but is especially true for in-state students since state taxes are used to fund these institutions. Second, they tend to favor in-state students in the admission process. So, if you are lucky enough to live in a state with a world-class public university system, you might want to consider adding your home-state colleges to your list.