6 Strategies to Create the Perfect College List

6 Strategies to Create the Perfect College List

Two years ago, one of my seniors insisted that he wanted to apply to more than 12 schools. Because he entered my senior application program later than my other rising seniors, he had already created preliminary college list on his own. 

After reviewing his choices, I warned him that applying to 12 or more colleges would be a lot of work, especially because he wasn’t even sure why each college or university would be a good fit for him. In other words, his college list was surface-level. 

Keep in mind, most colleges require supplemental essays for each application. These can vary anywhere from one short response to a 500 word essay, asking questions like:

Why Brown, and why the Brown curriculum?” - 200 words
“What about being a student at Boston University most excites you?” - 250 words
“Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections” - 250 words

Related: How to write the BEST supplemental essays

Halfway through the application season, he realized that the information he gathered through his initial research was a complete mess. He began to see that his research was surface-level because not only had he not visited most of the colleges he was applying to, he also didn’t have clear reason as to why a particular school would be a good fit for him.

He fell into the trap of applying to as many schools as he could and simply hoping for the best.

Here, at Julie Kim Consulting, we call that stretching yourself too thin.

The risk that comes with doing this is that there’s a high probability that your applications will suffer, meaning that you won’t be admitted into your number one school, and will instead end up getting accepted into a college that you may not even like.

So, here’s my 6 strategies on how to create your final college list:

#1: Do your research thoroughly (and there’s many ways to go about this)

#2: Narrow your list down to eight to ten schools. If your child is applying EA, ED, or SCEA, create a solid strategy for each decision.

#3: Reach out to professors, family, friends, or anyone else you can contact who currently attends, or has attended, the schools you are considering. Conduct as many interviews as you can because not everyone who attended a particular school will share the same perspectives.

#4: If you are a junior, you should have a good idea as to how your GPA and SAT/ACT will alter your college list.

#5: Be honest with yourself and apply to colleges who accept students within the range of your GPA and SAT scores. (That being said, some colleges are still worth a try if you desperately want to apply given our fantastic essay strategies!).

#6: Assess your particular fit with a school to make sure that it will fit your personal and academic preferences.

student research

So, how is this going to save you time when it comes to the college application season?

Well, the short answer is that, when your child is writing his or her application and supplemental essays, the process will be much easier.

Some students begin their college research as they write their supplemental essays — this is a bad idea because the student won’t know anything about the college they are writing about.

Whatever the case, if you want to maximize your chances of getting accepted into a college which will be a great fit for you, initial research — leading to the creation of a preliminary list — and a genuine interest, are going to speed up the process more than you know.

Rather than creating a college list right before senior year, you should try to start as soon as freshman or sophomore years. The creation of this list should be a gradual process because, trust me, along the way, some colleges will be removed from your list, while others will be added.

As you change as a person and get a better idea of your own preferences, changes in your list should reflect this.

Creating your child’s college list is a combination of facts, research, and intuition.


By Julie Kim Ed.M Harvard University