Creating Your College Wish List

Figuring out where to apply to college is exciting, but it can be a major challenge. After all, there are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States, and each school has its own unique strengths and defining features.

Fortunately, you can rather easily narrow down your search to a much more manageable number of colleges with the help of our series, "Creating Your College Wish List." You'll find a variety of articles, sorted in easy-to-follow sections that will guide you in the college selection process.

Whether you're doing a national or regional search, whether you care most about engineering or the beach, or the most selective and prestigious colleges in the country, you'll find articles here that feature top schools that speak to your interests.

Every college applicant has different criteria for selecting schools, and the categories featured here capture some of the most common selection factors. The articles are organized to focus first on topics that will be relevant to all college applicants, and later sections are more specialized. Read below to learn which sections will be most relevant to your own college search. 

Tips for Narrowing Down Your College List 

The first step in coming up with your college wish list is to figure out what type of school you want to attend. "Understanding Different Kinds of Colleges" begins with an article that discusses 15 factors to consider when choosing a school. Along with the quality of the academics, you should consider a school's student / faculty ratio, financial aid resources, research opportunities, graduation rates, and more. It's also important to figure out if you'll flourish at a small college or a large university.

If you're a solid "A" student with strong SAT or ACT scores, be sure to look through the articles in the second section, "The Most Selective Colleges." You'll find a detailed list of the country's most selective colleges and universities as well as lists of the colleges that tend to top the national rankings. Whether you're looking for a top public university or one of the best liberal arts colleges, you'll find information on a range of impressive schools. 

Selectivity, of course, doesn't tell the whole story when choosing a college. Under "Best Schools by Major or Interest," you'll find articles focused on particular interests whether they be academic or co-curricular. Are you looking for a top engineering school? Or perhaps you want a college with a strong equestrian program. This third section can help guide your college search.

Other colleges have a "Distinct Student Body" that might appeal to you. In the fourth section, you'll find articles featuring schools with specialized missions including the top women's colleges and top historically Black colleges and universities.

The great majority of college students attend a school that's within a day's drive from home. If you're restricting your search to a particular geographic region, you'll find guidance in "Best Colleges by Region." Whether you want to learn about the top New England colleges or best schools on the West Coast, you'll find an article identifying the top schools in your chosen area.

If you're not a straight "A" student or your SAT or ACT scores are sub-par, don't worry. In "Great Schools for Mere Mortals," you'll find top colleges for "B" students and a list of test-optional colleges that don't consider standardized test scores when making admissions decisions.

A Final Word on Creating Your College List

Keep in mind that words like "top" and "best" are highly subjective, and the best school for your particular strengths, interests, goals, and personality may very well be a college that isn't at the top of the national rankings.

Once you're found the colleges that match your selection criteria, make sure your list includes a realistic mix of match, reach, and safety schools. Many of the schools featured here are highly selective, and plenty of students with strong grades and standardized test scores get rejected. 

You should always shoot for the top, but make sure you have a contingency plan. You don't want to find yourself in the spring of senior year with no acceptance letters.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. "Creating Your College Wish List." ThoughtCo, Jan. 5, 2021, Grove, Allen. (2021, January 5). Creating Your College Wish List. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "Creating Your College Wish List." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).