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How To Start Building a College List

Article Written by Ritu Gupta

Before you get started on writing your college essays, you should compile a college list. A college list consists of all the colleges you have decided you want to apply to, based on the aspects you have deemed are necessary for an institution. By creating a college list, you can minimize the time and energy you spend on the application process by keeping information about all of the colleges you are applying to in one organized spreadsheet and only applying to schools that meet your criteria.

To start making your college list, brainstorm what factors you consider essential in a university. Consider college location, cost and financial aid, majors and programs offered, size, and campus life when creating your college list. To make this process easier on yourself, start by choosing three factors that you deem necessary in an institution to help narrow down your search. From there, you can utilize resources, such as the College Board’s BigFuture search tool, to find universities that match your criteria. During your search, keep in mind that it is advised you apply to a mix of safeties, targets, and reaches. You can estimate if a school is a safety, match, or reach by comparing your stats with those of the average admit by viewing that college's Common Data Set on their website.

To gain an insight into what a specific school offers, go onto the school’s website and locate the pages in which the institution goes more into detail on majors, professors, and programs. It can be beneficial to look into aspects of the university that are specific to your major, including course offerings and the professors that teach those courses, as well as student clubs. can be a great tool when further researching an institution, but keep in mind that a student’s experience with the professor may vary. A college visit can be another great way to get a further feel of the school. Although in-person college visits might not be available currently, many schools offer virtual tours, from which you can further decide if you are interested in a school or not. You can also learn more about a school by following the university’s social media accounts. They often show a less formal view of the university, with more emphasis on student life, which could provide you with some insight that you would not be able to garner from their website alone.

After conducting your research, you can compile the list of colleges you want to apply to (CollegeVine recommends your list be 7 to 10 universities) in a spreadsheet to help you better format and keep track of your applications. You should include things like the name of the institution you are applying to, application deadlines, application fees, location, total cost, and average undergraduate financial aid package in each column and fill in the information in each row specific to the school.

Choosing a college to commit to can be a difficult decision. By creating a college list and deeply researching schools to find what you want, you can ensure that no matter if the school is a safety, match, or reach, that you would be happy to enroll in and attend the university.

If you need more help with the college admissions process, reach out to a member of our team at and we will pair you with an advisor to get you started!

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