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How To Build Your College List

Last updated May 24, 2022

Find the Right Colleges. How to Build Your College List

With thousands of different colleges and universities to choose from, how do you find ones that fit your priorities, budget, and academic/career goals? It’s a lengthy, complicated process - but if you follow the steps we’ve outlined below, you’ll land on your feet and be set up for success!

Research specific schools to build your college list

Use the department of Education's College ScoreCard tool or College Board’s BigFuture tool to search for colleges by location, degrees offered, and price! As you build your initial list and start getting a feel for what you want in a college, consider the following factors:

  • Location - Where do you want to live? In-state, or close to home - where you can save on in-state tuition and possibly housing if you commute from home? Or out-of-state - where you can gain some independence and start a new journey away from home?
  • Major - What do you want to study? Make sure the schools you’re researching offer the degree programs you’re interested in. If you don’t know what you want to study, just look for classes or programs you’re attracted to.
  • Student population size - Pay attention to the size and culture of the school. Smaller colleges have smaller class sizes, more accessible professors, and a close-knit community. Larger colleges tend to have more sports funding and a wider variety of classes and options for majors.
  • Extracurriculars and athletics - Are you looking for certain sports programs, clubs, or student organizations? Keep an eye out for any extracurricular programs that are important to you.

(To Download our FREE College List Builder, click the button below!)

Check average cost of attendance, graduation rates, and average salary after graduation

Once you’ve thought carefully about what you want in a potential college, take a look at key statistical indicators of student success and degree-value at the colleges you’re interested in:

  • Average salary after graduation - a college degree is, for most students, a gateway to better career opportunities. It’s important to research what kind of career outcomes the average student at each college you’re interested in achieves. After all, that could be you if you end up attending!
  • Graduation rates - This is the percentage of students that successfully obtains a Bachelor’s degree after 4-6 years at any given college. Graduation rates lower than 70-80% are a red flag - they can indicate that students at that college are struggling or dropping out more frequently.
  • Cost of attendance - This is a projection of how much 4 years of tuition, housing, food, books, and other fees typically will cost at a college. Given how expensive college is, budgeting according to this figure is important. Keep in mind, you will most likely receive financial aid to help with some of these costs. 

how to build your college list

Discovered some colleges you're interested in? Let us know which in this discussion board! Once you're done building a healthy list of 9-10 potential college and are ready to make a decision, check out this guide on how to decide where to apply to college!

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