What's a balanced college list? Simply put, a list that includes schools that are virtually guaranteed to accept you, schools that accept students with records very similar to yours, and schools that are a bit of a stretch for
you – aptly called “reach” schools.
But for a list to be truly useful, every school on it should be a place you want to go to, a place where you can thrive. Finding out which schools fit this overall requirement takes some work.
Here are a few steps that will help you get started in putting together your college list:
Figure Out Your Preferences
Establish a list of characteristics your ideal school will have. Include things like location, size, student/teacher ratio, majors available, and extra-curriculars.
Use the extraordinary resources on the internet to learn which schools have what you’re looking for. This includes college search engines as well each school’s own website.
Evaluate and Rank Your Chances
Once you've built a general list, review information on the average GPA and test scores for each college and how you measure up. Then you can rank your chances and ensure you are assembling a balanced list.
Visit and Connect
Visit as many campuses as you can--even colleges that you're not interested in--just to get a feel for the differences between schools. In addition, attend college rep meetings at your school and local college fairs to learn more about schools of interests.
Check for Financial Friendliness
We never advise that you consider colleges based on sticker price because the net price to your family often ends up being very different. Still, understanding a school's track record on giving both need-based and merit-based financial aid helps in strategically building your list.
So start building your list early on, but remember that it will likely go through lots of revisions over time as you learn more and crystalize your wants and needs.
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