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How to Make Your College List: A Totally Legit Guide

Don’t be that person. We’ve all been there at the crossroads of the easier way out and the emotionally draining process that follows actually trying to put together a prospective colleges list. Trust me, you are better than that person. Better than the person who turns on their computer, goes to the Google search bar, types in “_______ major best universities” and then proceeds to copy-paste this list as their own college shortlist. I’m all about the easy way out, but this is NOT the move.


We all know what a harrowing, distressing, kind of exciting but mostly stress-inducing process applying to college can be. The very first step in this journey- choosing which colleges to apply to, is arguably the most important and toughest stage. So, spend a little time on deciding which colleges would be right for you because no matter how mundane the idea of making a list of prospective colleges seems, the result of this complicated process is extremely fruitful. I spent hours and hours on curating the list of colleges I wanted to apply to and now I cannot emphasize how happy I am with my college decision. Although my college turned out to be the perfect choice for me, I know many who wake up regretting where they go to school, wondering if they should’ve applied elsewhere, daydreaming about the dramatically different life they could have led. Honestly, looking back at your application with regret is the only thing more heartbreaking than a college rejection letter. Sometimes I look back at my own list of shortlisted colleges and realize that some of the colleges I applied to would have been bad fits for me.


Since everyone is different, a college that might be the perfect fit for someone else may not be perfect for you. If you limit yourself by applying to colleges someone else has ranked as the best, using their own personalized criteria, you won’t find what truly is best for you. So, here are a few things you should definitely look into while making your college list:


Of course, the first thing you should look into is your desired department’s requirements and grading style.


After all, you are going to college to learn. It is excruciatingly important that you do research about your particular department, its requirements, how it runs, and how it compares to the same department at other universities. What sets this department apart at the colleges you’re interested in? You cannot find a list online to help you with this because the structure of the courses you plan to take is something that should be tailored for you. More often than not students also tend to not take departmental grading styles into account while making their choices. Students who prefer a gradual learning process where grading puts heavy emphasis on assignments and periodic quizzes should look for universities that follow this grading style. On the other hand, students who prefer it when 100% of their grade is determined by exams so that they can relax for the most part and cram content a week before their exams, should be on the lookout for universities that go by this grading pattern. Grading patterns generally vary by department and per college but if you tend to psych yourself out about big exams and could potentially tank your entire grade in one sitting (lol @me), you might want to look into this and find a university with a departmental grading pattern that suits you.


The next extremely essential thing you should look into is the environment your university breeds.


College life can be rough. You’re going to be building a home away from home so the kind of people and the atmosphere you surround yourself with can single-handedly make or break your college experience. Would you prefer a big school or a small one? A highly competitive one to push you or a college with a more laid back approach? Are you interested in research universities and co-op programs specifically? And are you interested in solely an academic institution or one with heavy school spirit, sports, and holistic growth? There are no right answers. Oftentimes there are no answers at all. It is natural to be confused but these are the questions you should genuinely think about when trying to find the college with an environment that is best for you.


Another important question to ask yourself is how likely are you to get into the university in question based on your profile and GPA.


Colleges are extremely unpredictable. You can get rejected from colleges you think are easy to get into and get accepted to ones you thought were super selective. The important thing is to apply to a wide array of options. The system I like best is the 3-4-3 approach where you apply to 3 colleges where your profile, GPA, and SAT stats would be considered easily above average (safety schools), 4 that match your stats (match schools), and 3 that your stats are slightly below average for (reach/dream schools).


The last point I want you to think about while making your college list is the weather. Yes, that’s right. I said it. Weather.


This wasn’t even a criterion for me (case in point: I attend the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor) but it is something to definitely consider because I’ve come to learn that the weather does matter. Not everyone can live everywhere and that’s okay. Ultimately, you need to be able to live happily wherever you are so just be mindful when deciding. If you don’t like the scorching heat don’t apply to colleges in California. If you prefer beach days over snow days, stay away from colleges up north. The bottom line is - choose what works for you.


These are all pointers to help guide you in your search for the perfect college. At the end of the day, you need to trust your gut and choose places you think would not only fit your personality and push you academically but also be somewhere you can truly see yourself living for years. So keep in mind that overall college rankings are a very very small factor and that while we all want to go to the “best” universities but the most important thing is that you go to a program/department on a campus that would reap the most benefits for you. Your goal isn’t to make your list of potential colleges match the QS World University Rankings. Your goal is to make a list that matches your own personal rankings.


It needs to be your list, so make sure you do it justice.

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