How to Build Your List of Colleges

By Wanda Montañez, Ed.D, Chyten Senior Director of College Success

With over 3,000 colleges in the United States, how do you narrow down the list to one college? How do you find the school that best meets your needs? Where do you begin? And why is it important to have a good list to start with?

College List & College Fit

College fit refers to the how well a student connects with a college academically and socially. No student is the same as the next, even if their test scores and grade point averages are similar. In that same vein, no one college is a fit for every student. As students build their prospective college list, it’s imperative that they consider their individual personalities, skills and talents as they make decisions toward finalizing the lineup.

Students are not the only ones looking for a good fit. The institutions themselves are seeking applicants who are good fit for their campus. Colleges want to ensure that their entering first-year class consists of well-rounded students who come to campus with various strengths. The student bodies of a college are equally as diverse from year to year, which means that a student who may have been a good fit one year may not fulfill the needs of the campus environment the following year.

Building a List

The first step to building a college list starts with YOU! What are your hopes and dreams? Strengths and weaknesses? What does your ideal college look like? What size is the campus? What will you study? Do want to live at home or do you want to step out of your dorm room onto a campus green or a busy street?

The answers to these questions will help you find the colleges of your dream. Yes, there may be more than one college that would make you happy. Create a list of 20-30 schools that fulfill your needs, and then narrow down that list to around 6-12 institutions.

5 Criteria to Consider

  • Location

Where in the country (or world) do you want to be? Do you want to live close to home or far away? This is an important criterion to consider as you create your list. For example, if college is far away (i.e. a plane ride), how often can you afford to come home? You should also think about what kind of environment you prefer. Do you want to be in the hustle and bustle of an urban setting, or do you prefer a rural area?

  • Size

Do you want to be a large fish in a small pond? There are advantages to both a large and a small campus. At a small college you may know nearly all of the students in your graduating class or rest assured that your professors will know you well.

  • Major & Academic Interest

One of the best parts of college is deciding what you want to study or what your major will be. Some students know from a very young age what they want to study, while others are still relatively undecided, and that’s okay too. If you do already know what you want to study, make sure the colleges on your list offer that major, and research that specific program at the schools you’ll apply to.

  • Off-Campus Community

Given the varying personalities of students, it can also be important to consider off-campus life. The college experience doesn’t end at the edge of campus. For example, if you’re an aspiring artist or music producer, it makes sense to enroll at an institution located in areas that are rich with the arts. If you’re interested in politics, perhaps a school in Washington, D.C. would be a good option. Location creates greater opportunities for students to find internships or part-time employment that are aligned with their academic major or simply provides a more well-rounded college experience.

  • Cost & Affordability

Given the high cost of a college education, families should consider the differences between the sticker price and the actual net price of any school. The sticker price is the advertised cost of attendance, where the net price is the final cost after scholarships, grants, and other financial aid sources have been deducted. Compare all financial aid packages to make sure you’re making an informed decision that fits in with your family’s finances.

These are not the only criteria to consider, of course, but this guide offers a starting point to help you begin the process of elimination as you build your college list. Take the time to identify other criteria that are important to you to help you find the perfect fit.

Resources to Help You Find Your Fit

These resources may be useful to you as you build and narrow down your list:

Chyten’s College Endeavor Program is demystifying the college process for high-school juniors through a 5-step program that helps students establish a personalized college admission blueprint. Want to learn more? Email or call Academic Director Vicki Jones at (617) 487-4401.