Student Life

4 Ways to Organize a College Search List

Have you begun thinking about where you are going to apply to college? There are so many things to consider when doing so!

Student Contributor, Alondra Arevalo

November 23, 2021

4 Ways to Organize a College Search List
A student shares what to keep in mind when creating a list of schools to apply to.
Creating your college list is the first step in planning your future. There are so many factors to keep in mind, such as location, major, and school size. However, these factors can only filter out so many schools. To create a set college list, you have to consider looking at what is best for you. Out of the thousands of colleges out there, you can only select a few to apply to. This can be a hassle, especially if you have to choose between a couple that you really like. Let’s look at some ways to start organizing your lists, and maybe make the process a little easier.

Reach, Match, Safety

If you haven’t heard the phrase “reach, match, and safety schools” before, it describes the chance you have of getting into the schools that you are going to apply to.
A “reach” school is a school that is harder to get into with your stats (GPA, activities, etc.). These are usually super competitive schools like Harvard, Yale, UCLA, or Rice, but they could also be any schools whose average GPA or test scores are higher than yours. Regardless, do not let this discourage you. Just because it is a “reach” does not mean it is impossible to get in. It just means that it is a little riskier to apply to. A “match” school is a school that is the perfect fit for you statistically. This means the average GPA or test scores are very similar to yours, and your chances of getting in are really good. Even though you are a perfect fit, do not underestimate it! Do not slack on those essays, because your spot is not necessarily guaranteed, even if you think you have a “guaranteed shot.”
Finally, a “safety” school is a school that you have an amazing shot of getting into, meaning that the average GPA or test scores are lower than yours. These schools are perfect to add to the list, as a “safety” measure. Just in case you don’t get into your match schools, safety schools are still there for you to lean on! Consider doing a “3-4-3” method if you are applying to 10 schools for example. This means applying to three “reach” schools, four “match” schools, and three “safety” schools (more match schools because you have better chances of getting into those competitively). However, this can be done with any ratio, such as “1-2-1” for four schools or “2-3-2” for six schools. Regardless, the way this is organized is completely up to what works best for you! I highly recommend using Niche for this, as they have an amazing tool that allows you to see the likelihood of you getting accepted to the school! For this, consider anything under 35% a “reach”, anything between 36%-65% a “match”, and anything above 66% a “safety!”

Discussing financial options

Although you pick schools using your stats, never disregard your financial situation. Make sure you have had a discussion with your parents about your financial plan for college: whether you are going to take out loans, if you are eligible for financial aid, and who’s paying for your education. Make sure wherever you decide to apply to after this is somewhere that everyone who is involved is able to help with, and make sure that it is something realistic. With this in mind, you can also create a “reach, match, safety” list for schools financially. For example, private schools tend to be more expensive, so those could be a “reach”, and many public schools are “match” schools and “safeties''. This isn’t always the case though; make sure that you look at your options and pick what may be best for you!

Decide your location

Although this is obvious, location is extremely important! Do you want to be in a college town or a big city? Do you like crowds or less people? These are questions that you must ask yourself when picking schools you want to go to. Be realistic when doing so as well and think about the long term. For example, some people think they want to be in a big city, but they haven’t thought about the cost of living there after living in the dorms. Some people say they don’t mind a lot of people, but feel overwhelmed at the mall. You don’t want to hate the place your school is at, so make sure you can picture yourself happy wherever you decide to apply.

Tour… Tour… Tour!

Last but not least, please tour the schools you are considering applying to! In person is the best way to do this… however virtual tours are fine also. Touring the campus allows you to really picture yourself there, and see if you fit. It also allows you to feel the vibe at the school and get a sense of belonging, and virtually this happens too! If you can’t picture yourself happy at the school, maybe it isn't the best place to apply. So, try to tour as many schools as you can! You never know where you will feel most at home. Picking the schools you want to apply to could be stressful, but always remember that no matter where you go, pick the place that makes you the happiest! Regardless of the name, it is what you do at the school that makes the education worth it. I wish you luck on your college search…you’ve got this!

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