How to Choose the Right Colleges to Apply To


Understand What You’re Looking For

Identifying the characteristics that matter most to you is the first step in your college search.

Your ideal college might offer:
  • Quality academic programs in the fields you’re interested in
  • A certain campus culture or student lifestyle
  • Opportunities for extracurricular activities
  • A location and environment (urban or rural, close to home or far away) that suits you

Dig Deeper into Colleges

Once you have a list of colleges that seem to fit your criteria, it’s time to dig deeper.

Visit Campuses

Visits can be a great way to get a feel for a college. I remember a student who was deciding between two very similar schools. It wasn’t until he visited both campuses that he could see the difference in the community and vibe, which ended up being the deciding factor.

Reach out to Current Students

Current students can provide valuable insight. Another student of mine was unsure about a college until she reached out to a current student who was majoring in the same subject she was interested in. This conversation helped her see the opportunities and challenges she might face at that school, and she felt more prepared to make her decision.

Evaluate Your Academics

Your academic profile plays a big role in where you apply.

Understand the Admissions Data

Here’s a tip: look at the 25th-75th percentile range of SAT/ACT scores and GPAs for admitted students to get an idea of a college’s typical admitted student profile.

College25th Percentile SAT75th Percentile SAT25th Percentile GPA75th Percentile GPA
College A130014803.54.0
College B140015503.74.0
College C120013503.33.8

Consider Applying to a Range of Schools

A balanced college list might include reach schools, match schools, and safety schools.

  • Reach schools: These are highly competitive colleges where your academic profile is below the school’s range for the typical admitted student. They’re not out of reach, but admission is a long shot.
  • Match schools: These are colleges where your academic credentials fall well within (or exceed) the school’s range for the typical admitted student. You’re not guaranteed admission, but you’re certainly a competitive applicant.
  • Safety schools: These are schools where your qualifications exceed the college’s range for the typical freshman. You can be reasonably confident that you’ll be admitted.

Reflect on Your Choices

After you have your list, take some time to reflect. Can you see yourself at each of these colleges? Are you excited about them? If not, it might be worth revisiting your list. Remember the student who chose based on campus vibe? You want to be just as sure about your choices.

Choosing the right colleges to apply to is a journey, and it’s okay if it takes some time. Keep exploring, and you’ll find the colleges that are right for you.

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