6 Tips to Help Your Students Make a Better College List

If you want to make a better college list, don’t limit your potential list of colleges to just schools you have heard of. There are over 1,600 four-year US colleges-there is no reason to start off with a short list of five institutions. Having a larger list of colleges opens up opportunities you haven’t even considered at prices you didn’t think possible.

You need to think about having two college lists. The first is the list you start with. The second is the list of colleges you end up with and actually apply to. Your start list should contain at least 20 schools, more if you have the time to research them. When you’re just starting, your college list should include colleges that you haven’t considered or heard of before you started creating the list.

So how do you find colleges you have never heard of?

Start with your “dream school”. What characteristics are you looking for? Big/small school, public/private, based in a city or rural location, specific programs to study, etc. Once you come up with that list look at these 6 things:

  1. Ignore Geography: By this I mean both location, such as state, and place, such as rural. There are a lot of preconceived notions about colleges based on geography alone. Ultimately, geography may be an important consideration for narrowing your list of colleges. But by keeping geography out of the equation to begin with, you may discover other factors that more than make up for being in a place you had thought was less than desirable.
  2. Don’t use rankings to keep colleges off your list: Rankings are arbitrary, one person’s top ten may not make it to another person’s top 50. If and when you do use rankings to narrow your college list, be sure to understand the basis for the rankings. Most rankings are based on inputs, including what the students bring to the college. Ideally, families should be evaluating colleges based on what they will do for students.
  3. Look up similar Colleges: Use sites such as collegeresults.org. If you know of a school that you really like, look it up to see 25 other schools that collegeresults.org considers similar. As when using the rankings, it is a good idea to see how they determine similar colleges. However, it’s a fast and easy way to expand your horizons.
  4. Look at net cost rather than tuition.: Few people pay full price. You can get an even better idea of net price by income level by using the College Navigator. Make sure you have already calculated an estimated EFC and use the colleges net price college calculators. Be careful about using the information on the highest income category. Data is only available for those that receive some form of federal aid, including student loans. Note we also include net price college calculator links for many colleges on linkforcounselors.com here.
  5. Instead of acceptance rates, look at the 75th percentile test scores: For example, there are 97 institutions where the 75th percentile ACT scores is between 30 and 31. The acceptance rates range from 15% to 95%. There are 68 colleges with acceptance rates between 30 and 40 percent and the 75th percentile ACT scores range from 16 to 33. Admission rates often reflect a lot of self-selection not to mention rankings popularity so try a different approach.
  6. Don’t use college size in making your preliminary list: This is another area where many students have assumptions that they haven’t really tested. Make sure students visit colleges of all kinds of sizes before setting any size requirements. Ultimately, it’s simply a matter of numbers since there are just a lot more smaller colleges than bigger ones. Begin by looking at the percentage of classes by class size or the number or type of classes available for specific majors.

This information was provided by DIY College Rankings. Information on geography, size, graduation rates, acceptance rates, test scores, majors, and more are available in the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.