Resources for Building Your College List

You work hard in high school to improve your chances of admission to the colleges of your choice. Most of the goals that you strive to achieve relate to your academic record, but there are also non-academic goals you set in extracurricular activities that are important for the same reason. Yet there’s a third key factor in successful admissions — an effective College List.

Developing a College List

Your College List is comprised of the schools to which you’ll apply in senior year. These schools satisfy your needs, goals, and, to a great extent, your preferences for a college. You should identify and prioritize your own subjective criteria early in your admissions process. The two most important factors are cost and your likelihood of admission, but there are many other variables that differentiate colleges in significant ways.

The development of your College List begins with a list of the schools that interest you. Assuming this is a long list, it needs to be shortened to a more manageable size. With a shorter list, you’ll be ready to discuss its pros and cons with guidance counselors, admissions consultants, family, peers, and students and alumni of the schools. The shorter the list, the more realistic it is to visit all the schools, which is the best way to recognize your “best-fit” colleges.

Researchis the means of reducing the Colleges-of-Interest list down the second, more manageable one of six to ten schools. Below are some of the best resources for your research.

  1. Magazine Rankings of Colleges

At Louis Educational Consulting, we advise you not to use magazine rankings of colleges as the basis for selecting schools. The publishers may be well intentioned, but their rankings are based solely on quantitative data. Your choices should be based on the subjective criteria that you’ve established. This is not to say, however, that magazine college rankings and similar publications don’t have their uses. Each of them represents a reliable source of quantitative information about colleges.

The Annual College Edition of U.S. News & World Report is the most widely read of the mass-market publications that rank colleges. However, rankings based on the same underlying data but ordered according to different algorithms are also published by Money, Forbes, Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s, Washington Monthly, and Barron’s. There are numerous other college rankings online but you should be wary of any without a recognizable name because they may be biased.

  • College Cooperative Data Source

As mentioned above, publishers base their rankings on a single source of data. It’s from a shared database called the Common Data Set (CDS). CDS is a collaboration between publishers and colleges to maintain the quality and consistency of reported information.

Part of each college’s data set is Schedule C, which describes the academic record of the applicants who were admitted last year. This data is reported in percentiles to enable you to compare it to your own record easily. Many other useful admissions-related data fields are also included.

CDS data is also available for your personal research. To find the CDS data for a college, enter “Common Data Set Name-of-College” into a web search engine.

  • Federal Government

The College Scorecard is a web-based resource maintained by the U.S. Department of Education for use by students in comparing the cost and value of colleges. It provides information about colleges in the following categories: Programs/Degrees, Location, Size, Mission, Type of College, and Religious Affiliation.

  • Technology-Based Tools

Naviance is a technology firm that has partnered with over 40% of high schools in the U.S. to provide students with college planning tools. Their platform has many features that benefit students, including college-matching tools, course planning guides, career assessment, and personality tests.

High school administrators know that choosing where to apply to college is a complex problem with long-term consequences. Many students lack the counseling necessary to make good choices. Schools offer a Naviance scattergram tool to help you determine the likelihood of acceptance at a particular college based on the past experience of others from your high school. Students are more inclined to apply to a college when they see that the outcome of applications submitted by their peers has been positive.

  • Subjective Sources

Objective sources are best for your purposes, but there’s a place for subjective analyses in your research as well. They allow you to see what others consider to be the pros and cons of a particular college. A good resource for this purpose is the Fiske Guide, which provides three-page reviews of colleges with personal feedback from current students regarding the academic programs, popular majors, intellectual climate, campus facilities, accessibility of faculty, athletics, social and cultural environment, and geographic location of a school.

The Yale Daily News publishes an Insider’s Guide to Colleges, which is a similar compilation of informed opinions.

Building your College List is a critical step in your college admissions campaign. We advise you to make sure that you’re using the best resources.

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