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Your Playbook For Building An Air-Tight College List

Posted By Jim Eaton | November 21, 2017


It's called the "blank canvas" problem.

There's so much space, so many possibilities and so many choices to make that it can paralyze you. There are thousands of colleges out there. How do you even begin to find the one that's right for you? 

We're going to help! Here's how to make an air-tight college list. 

Start writing down everything you can think of. The canvas isn't actually as blank as it seems, right? There are some marks on there! You just need to do a little squinting to see them. Ask yourself these questions: How far do I want to be from home? What kind of campus do I see myself on? Do I want to be in a big city or a small town? Do I know already what I want my major to be, or do I need some time to figure that out? Do I want a school with a big athletics program, or am I more interested in an arts program?

Write the story of your college experience. In your vision of your perfect college experience, who are you, what are you doing, how are you doing it? Don't hold back! Draw your most ambitious picture. 

Now whittle it down. Try to narrow your list to 10 or 20 colleges that fit most (or all!) of your criteria. Talk to your school counselor about which colleges offer what you're looking for. 

Then start researching. Request information from the colleges. Research online and keep refining your list till you get down to your top 8 or 12. These are colleges you've ranked at least a 7 or 8 out of 10 (on your scale).

Aaaaaand break 'em up. Which school is going to be your TO DIE FOR school? Your most ambitious applications should go to the colleges you love but might not necessarily be a match with. Then decide which schools on your list are ones that are probably a match. Next, pick out your safety schools, the ones where you're most likely to be accepted. But make sure your safety schools aren't throwaways or afterthoughts! You want your safeties to also be places you could see yourself happy in. 

This is a fun process, we promise. It's going to be a lot of research, but that's why you should write your story first. Once you know exactly what you're looking for, everything else comes easy. 

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TOPICS: Academics

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