College Applications | 3 STEPS TO MAKE A COLLEGE LIST

In order to come with a list of eight to eleven schools, I am going to go over the three steps you need to complete when looking for potential schools.

Knowing these steps will help you make the PERFECT COLLEGE LIST!


“Congratulations on your acceptance!”

I received this letter in the mail the spring of my senior year of high school.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about UNC until I stumbled upon it using the college board search tool engine.

In fact, I found more than half of the schools on my list thanks to the college board! 

Although I did end up applying to the state school whose sweatshirt I had rocked throughout high school, I also explored other options in different states across the country. 

I wanted to see what else was out there. 

Three steps to make the Perfect List of Colleges

1. Ask yourself these six questions...
  • Do I know what my family’s  Estimated Expected Family Contribution is?


  • Do I want to go big, medium, or small school?


  • Where do I want to go to college, do you want to stay close to home or go somewhere far?


  • Will I continue to Participate in Extracurriculars such as sports, theater, or write for the student newspaper?


  • Do I know the difference among Early Action, Early Decision and Regular Decision?


  • Do I know which Standardized Test I do better on and should I apply to Test-Optional schools?
2. Define how many schools you should apply to.

This will depend on your specific situation but we recommend anywhere between 8 and 12 colleges:

  • 2-3 reach school
  • 3-6 target school
  • 3 safety schools

Be realistic and honest with yourself on how you classify the schools you apply to.

In general, reach schools are those that have very low acceptance rates.

See where you would fit based on your academics, test scores, and extracurriculars.

If you decide to send out early applications, make sure the school meets the academic, campus, and social qualities you want.

Early Action & Early Decision

Do not apply early decision or early action if your application is not meeting the college’s admissions standards!

You might be better off applying regular decision as it can give you a chance to polish your essays, get your grades up and improve your SAT or ACT  scores.

The College Board website has a breakdown of how many of the students from the incoming class were accepted through regular decision, and how many were accepted through Early Decision and Early Action.

“A big reason why I got into UNC despite their 13% out-of-state acceptance rate was that I applied early action.”

Look at this information as it might help you determine whether or not waiting to get your GPA up is worth passing up Early Application Deadlines.

3. Create Your Free College Board Account

You might already have one but if you don’t, let’s go ahead and create one as you will need one to register for standardized tests, send out scores, and look for colleges.

First, let’s go to the college board website to create your account.

When you get to the signup page, select “I am a Student”.

Fill out your Student Information (I recommend you sign up for the Monthly Student Newsletter and Alerts).

Check the boxes to confirm the information. 

Go to College Search to use the search engine tool 

After successfully creating your profile, go to college search.

To get there, you will need to go to the Find Colleges tab and click College Search.

You should be redirected to this page.

As you can see, you will be able to select filters based on your personal preferences.

Remember, the pickier you get with your filters, the fewer schools you will find so make sure that you are honest with yourself. 

Example: How to use the college search engine tool

Let’s walk you through an example…

For Test Scores & Selectivity filter, let’s select all the boxes in selectivity except for Open admissions.

In the Type of School, it is important to note that private colleges and universities charge one tuition rate for all of their students.

This is regardless of whether you are a resident in the same state that the institution is in.

If you want to go to an out of state school, I recommend you apply to a private institution as you will get charged the same as an in-state resident.

When Looking at the Location filter, think about where you see yourself the happiest.

“Is it a school near home, is it somewhere warm or cold?”

Remember, it’s your choice.

Let’s select individual states, California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Again this is all your personal preference, you can complete the other filters on your own.

When looking at Campus and Housing notice that some of these filters are very specific, I would not worry too much about filling them out.

For example, some schools that don’t allow freshmen to have cars, also have off-campus parking lots for students regardless of their year.

Unless your situation is very specific, I wouldn’t fill anything out here. 

Let’s check out the Major & Learning Environment filter, I know I want a school that has a business program but I might also want to do something with technology. Let’s select both.

Some people want to study abroad for a semester, I might be biased after spending a semester abroad in Europe.

“I highly recommend you select a school that offers students to study abroad.”

Let’s also go to Sports and Activities. Since I also swam in high school, I selected swimming because I wanted to weigh my options.

Remember that Division I and II schools give out scholarships and division III does not.

Let’s go to the Academic Credit filter.

“I want my schools to offer credit for AP classes.”

If you are a transfer student you might want to select the last box.

In the Paying filter, I selected 80% for the percentage of financial need I want my school to meet.

If your EFC estimate is low, you will want a school that can meet a high percentage of your financial need.

You would want to uncheck the “Include colleges that don’t report this data” box to get a more accurate result.

“Remember to apply to schools that offer work-study.”

When you are done DO NOT FORGET to click the ‘Save Selection Button’.

If you forget, your selections WILL NOT BE SAVED and you will have to start all over again. 

“What if I have not heard of any of these schools?”

Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it is not a good one.

There is just as much value in a small/medium public or private school education as there is in a big state school.

Use what you have just learned and find what else is out there.

You should visit schools with your family if you have a chance.

If you play sports in high school and plan on making official NCAA college visits, some of these schools will pay for all the expenses or a portion of your travel costs.

I didn’t know much about UNC but I did my research, visited the school and decided to go there.

It was the best decision of my life!

I hope you have a better understanding of how to approach the college search process.

If you have any questions visit our online course!




Francisco Cantu

Francisco Cantu

Best College Aid Instructor

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