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Build your college list

Pick the right mix of schools to apply to 

If you’re new to the college application process, you may wonder how many college applications you should submit. 

Start by considering at least six colleges or universities that match the factors most important to you. Within your list, you’ll want a mix of safety, match, and reach schools. We recommend the following: 

  • Two safety schools 
  • Three match schools 
  • Two reach schools 

What’s a safety, match, or reach school? Let’s explore these terms together. 

Safety schools 

Safety schools are schools you know you'll get into. You meet their admission requirements. They can also be schools you have a very good chance of getting into based on your SAT scores and GPA or class rank. Most certificate programs, technical colleges, and community colleges have open admissions. This means you’ll need a high school diploma or GED to enroll, but no entrance exam scores (like SAT or ACT). 

Match schools 

Match schools are schools whose typical admitted student profile matches your academic credentials. It’s okay if admission to these schools isn’t a complete guarantee, or if your match schools have an open admissions policy. For now, what’s important is that the school’s academic profile aligns with yours. 

Reach schools 

Reach schools are schools where you don’t quite meet their admission standards. You may be taking a chance by applying, but with a strong essay and letters of recommendation, you may be accepted. Community service, extracurricular activities, and background may help your application. Even if the school is hard to get into, it’s worth a try! 

Research schools to build your list 

When thinking about college, it's important to stay focused on what's right for you—from degree programs, to financial aid, to campus locations and more. When you have a clearer picture of what you're looking for in a college, you can begin researching individual schools to see if they're a good fit. You can even to your high school alumni that attend these schools to hear about their experience. 

The following are questions you can consider as you do research to help you decide which college should get added to your list. 

Academic Programs:

  • What majors and academic programs does the college offer?
  • Are there any specific programs or departments known for excellence in my field of interest?
  • What is the student-to-faculty ratio, and how accessible are professors for additional help or research opportunities?

Admissions Criteria:

  • What are the admission requirements, including GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities?
  • Are there any specific admission deadlines or requirements for the programs I'm interested in?

Financial Aid and Scholarships:

  • What types of financial aid are available, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs?
  • Are there any merit-based scholarships available, and what are the criteria for eligibility?
  • What is the total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room, and board?

Campus Life and Culture:

  • What is campus life like, and what opportunities are available for student involvement in clubs, organizations, and activities?
  • What is the demographic makeup of the student body, and is there diversity in perspectives and backgrounds?
  • What are the housing options for students, and what is the on-campus community like?

Career Services and Alumni Network:

  • What resources does the college offer for career development, internships, and job placement?
  • How strong is the alumni network, and are there opportunities for networking and mentorship?
  • What percentage of graduates secure employment or pursue further education within six months of graduation?

Location and Campus Facilities:

  • Where is the college located, and what is the surrounding area like in terms of safety, amenities, and opportunities for recreation?
  • What campus facilities are available, such as libraries, laboratories, fitness centers, and student support services?

Support Services:

  • What support services are available for academic advising, tutoring, counseling, and student wellness?
  • Is there assistance available for students with disabilities or special needs?

Study Abroad and Global Opportunities:

  • Does the college offer study abroad programs or other opportunities for international experiences?
  • How does the college support students who are interested in global engagement and cultural exchange?

Graduation and Retention Rates:

  • What is the college's graduation rate, and how does it compare to national averages?
  • What support systems are in place to help students succeed academically and persist to graduation?

Post-Graduate Outcomes:

  • What do graduates typically go on to do after completing their degree?
  • Are there notable alumni in my field of interest, and how has their college experience contributed to their success?

The next step is building out your list of schools you're interested in based on reach, match, and safety. Then you can visit the campuses, talk to students, and make your own decision about which school feels right.