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How To Build Your College List

Last updated October 22, 2021

Find the Right Colleges. How to Build Your College List

With thousands of different colleges and universities to choose from, how do you find schools that fit your priorities, budget, and academic and career goals? It’s a lengthy, complicated process - especially with  COVID-19 causing the closure of campuses nationwide - but if you follow these steps we’ve outlined below, you’ll land on your feet!

Step 1: 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?
  • 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 programs you’re attracted toward.
  • 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!)

Step 2: 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 curious about:

  • Average Salary After Graduation - a college degree is, for most students, a gateway to better career opportunities. It’s important to check 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 holistic 4-year projection of how much 4 years of tuition, housing, food, books, and fees typically will cost at a college. Given how expensive college is, budgeting according to this figure is important. Keep in mind, you will get financial aid to help with this cost - and in many cases financial aid can cover up to 100% of these costs.

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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