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Decisions to Determine Your College List

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

There are over 3000 colleges in the United States. Many students wonder, how can I possibly choose and determine my application list? Simply, thoughtful introspection can help reduce your college list and make the application process as smooth as possible.

Key College Decisions

Life is a constant string of decisions. As you are leaving the house, and going to college, this is the first time in your life you are truly becoming an adult and setting yourself up for the rest of your adult life. With this opportunity, there is a tremendous responsibility (and need!) to be thoughtful about what you want and why. If you can be truly thoughtful, you not only will build a perfect college application list for you, but you will set yourself up for success during and after college.

1. Decide what you want to do long-term with your college degree. Ultimately, you are applying to school for a higher education. Before I work with any student, I ask them what they want to do with their college degree, and what major and minors do they want to pursue. Once the student knows what they want to study, and why, then it's easy to do an initial trim off the 3000+ colleges. Trimming based on academic subjects, available courses and areas of concentrations is an easy unbiased filtering criteria.

2. Decide how you want to spend your time when not in class. While your classes are important, you will be spending a tremendous amount of time on-campus, not in classes. Are you the type of person that will want to study in libraries? Do you plan to join a fraternity or sorority? Will you be cheering (or tailgating) every school football game? Are you interested in having multiple internships during the academic school year?

Deciding how you want to spend your time is incredibly valuable to determine if you want:

  • An urban, suburban or rural setting

  • Certain clubs or events on campus

  • Specific on-campus or off-campus living options

  • A large, medium or small school

3. Decide the type of school culture you want. This is incredibly important. Most people need others and need friends to feel happy and feel connected to the school at-large. You will be living and taking classes with a whole new set of people while in college. It is essential you feel you can make friends at your college and/or in the surrounding city or town.

Knowing the school culture you want will help you determine:

  • The cities or towns you want to consider for school

  • The level of competitiveness or academic rigor you desire

4. Decide the type of opportunities you want available to you. Most students don't realize the importance of this point. The opportunities available at each college can vary widely - even amongst "highly competitive schools."

For example, varying opportunities may include:

  • What companies come to campus to recruit future employees and interns

  • What study abroad opportunities are available

  • What graduate school application assistance is available

  • What career service assistance is available

  • What access you have to school alumni

Knowing the types of opportunities you want during and after school can be incredibly valuable when researching colleges.

(As an example: Maybe you really want to work at a particular company post-graduation. You can research or ask a college admissions officer, does ABC Company recruit at your school? If so, what positions or roles?)

5. Decide your budget and how you want to finance your education (all of your education). It is no secret that college is expensive. Every year prices go up, and four years of undergraduate studies is only part of the equation for many students. It may be uncomfortable, but it is important each student sits down with his or her parents and discusses how both the student and parents hope to pay for school.

If, for example, the parents only have a certain budget for the student's higher education, then the student can take that into consideration when deciding how to allocate the funds (e.g. during undergraduate studies and/or graduate studies).

Knowing a budget and understanding how the student's education will be paid for will help decide the amount of financial aid or merit scholarships that will be needed. Ultimately, the student needs to understand what tuition fees are reasonable to consider.

Your College List

No doubt. Decisions are hard. But once you know what you want, reducing your application list is so many easier (and maybe you only need to apply to one school!).

If you truly know what you want, it is very possible you can apply Early Action or Early Decision to your dream school, get in, and be done. If this happens to you, amazing - you should be so proud of yourself.

Otherwise, I recommend having the following on your list:

  • 2-3 reach schools

  • 3-4 50/50 schools

  • 2-3 safety schools

Have More Questions?

Do you have more questions or want to help with your application list? Feel free to reach out to Rose College Prep at We offer free 15-minute consultations. We are here, if you need us!

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