With nearly 4,000 universities in the United States alone, building a college list can be an overwhelming task for many high school students. Luckily, we have compiled a list of the top 10 factors to consider when building a college list, along with some useful resources!

Just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location! You’re going to live where you go to college for at least 4 years (maybe longer if you get a job or do a joint graduate program). You deserve to be happy for those 4 years. Making a list of places you’d love to live, like to live, and refuse to live can help you narrow down the scope of your search. Keep in mind things like access to public transportation, proximity to airports, and weather conditions throughout the year when considering locations for your future college.

Some people love the idea of getting lost in a crowd, while others may feel anxious when thinking about large groups of people. Size is another factor to consider when building your college list and could help you significantly narrow your search. There are pros and cons to different-sized colleges. In general, smaller colleges allow students more opportunities to connect with professors and other students but may have limited resources for internships and research experience. Larger colleges have extensive resources but may have larger class sizes and fewer opportunities for personal connections.

Let’s be honest. There is something to be said for the “name brand” appeal of certain colleges. Harvard, Yale, Columbia. Some students dream of attending Ivy League colleges. Whether it’s bragging rights or the realization that your hard work in high school paid off, it is worth considering whether or not the reputation of a college is truly important to you. For college rankings, check out US News.

Have you developed a strong interest during your time in high school that you’d like to pursue in college? If so, you may want to consider the strength of that particular program when building your college list. If you love computer science, look for schools with especially reputable programs for coding. If you want to be a doctor, start searching for undergraduate programs with high success rates for medical school acceptances. While tons of universities are strong in many different areas, you may want to consider universities that are especially well-known for the program or major you like. But don’t worry. If there aren’t any particular programs or majors that interest you yet, there are plenty of other things you can use to guide you when building your list!

Graduation Rate
A strong factor to consider when deciding whether or not to apply to a college should be the overall graduation rate of the university. In general, universities with high graduation rates (anything above 70% would be considered on the higher end) are doing something (probably a lot of things) right. Their students are happy—at least happy enough to stay and not transfer schools—and completing their degrees in a timely manner. Universities with high graduation rates have cultivated relatively happy and successful students, so this is definitely worth thinking about when choosing colleges to apply to.

Attending a 4-year university in the United States is quite an expensive undertaking. It is reasonable to consider the cost of certain universities when building your list. If cost is a significant factor for you and your family, consider researching public in-state universities. You may also want to consider universities that give merit scholarships for certain GPAs and test scores. It is a good idea to research these things ahead of time so you know what you need to do in school and on standardized tests to be eligible for merit scholarships. Fun Fact: if you have dual citizenship with Canada, you are eligible for “resident” tuition at many Canadian universities.

Social Aspects
Do you like attending sporting events? Have you always dreamed of rushing a sorority or fraternity? Do you want to attend a college where everyone is participating in the same events each week? The social aspects of a college—football games, Greek life, strong on-campus community events—can help be a deciding factor for you in regards to which schools you might want to attend. If you’re into sports, look at D1 universities. If you like Greek life, check out this post from Niche.

Life is all about balance, and so is your college list! It’s important to have a good mix of schools that are incredibly selective, somewhat selective, and less selective. You should reach for some stars but still have a safety net. If your college list is too heavily skewed in one direction, you haven’t found balance yet. The best way to decide how selective a school is for you is to look at a combination of factors: overall acceptance rate, acceptance rate for your particular major, and average GPA/standardized test scores for accepted students. You should, ideally, have an even number of schools that would be considered high, medium, and low in terms of how selective they are.

Opposites mostly only attract in movies and romance books. In real life, most of us like to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who value similar things as us. This means that considering the values a college community has may be an important factor for you when deciding where you’d like to spend the next 4 years. Start with the basics and think about if you consider yourself more conservative or liberal and go from there. Reddit has great threads that can give you some insight from actual students at the university in regards to the values most of the students have/share. 

Sometimes, when you know…you know. Many of my students have ultimately made decisions about which college they would attend based on a “gut feeling” they felt when on campus. There’s nothing wrong with following your gut! If you have the opportunity to visit college campuses when students are present, it’s a great idea to take advantage of this! You never know when a college will surprise you.

Ultimately, building a college list can be a drawn out and long process. Get help when you need it! Click here to have an expert review your list or to ask questions.