How to Finalize your College Application List

Harvard Yard, 2009

Harvard Yard, 2009

Fernanda Matias, Editor of Passion

College applications are a major source of worry and anxiety for many high school students. To alleviate some stress, and move forward in the application process, the first step is to finalize your college application list. This includes the list of colleges/ universities you would like to apply to after considering all pertinent factors. Although you may not get accepted to every college on your list, it is crucial to ensure you will be happy at whatever school you end up at. To guarantee the most successful list catered to your interest, consider all the factors below.  


Many students commence their college search by researching location. Consider how close to home you want to be, weather, if you would like to attend school abroad, etc. Some students prefer to stay close enough to home to drive back on breaks, or come home for the weekends. Others prefer to attend school far from home to explore living in a new region and be exposed to another culture and lifestyle. However, many students prioritize other factors over location. Determine how important location is to you, and define where you would like to attend. If location is your number one priority, limit where you will apply to colleges first, and then proceed to narrow your list by considering the other factors.

Sort Your List

Sort your list depending on if your universities/ colleges of interest are reach, match, or safety schools. Typically, this is determined based on the average GPA and SAT/ACT score of that school. If your stats fall above the average first-year student, it would be considered a safety. If they are similar to the average first-year student, it would be a match, or likely school. Finally, if your stats are below the average, it is a reach school. It is recommended to apply to reach schools if you fall above at least the 25th percentile for test scores and GPA.

Applying to one to two safeties, two to four matches, and one to two reaches is the recommended number of applications. 

Campus Setting

Sometimes, every aspect of a college/ university seems perfect. But, when you visit the school, you simply don’t like the feel/ look of the campus. Maybe it doesn’t feel like home, it’s too large or too small, or you don’t like the surrounding areas. Whatever the reason, campus setting is not an aspect to be overlooked. Visiting campuses or speaking to current or former students is the best way to gain a feel of what the campus is like. However, if these options are out of reach for you, there are other questions to consider:

  • Do I see myself at a college with a lot of students or in a smaller community?
  • Do I want to be at a college where student life is concentrated on campus? Do I want to live in a dorm?
  • Do I want to be surrounded by a diverse student body or people with interests similar to mine?
  • Do I want to be at a school where sports are significant? Or one that’s known for its activism? Or for its hard-working students?


In-state tuition- Tuition is the annual cost of attending a college. The cost of tuition can depend on whether or not you will attend an in-state public school or a private/ out-of-state school. For example, UCLA is a public institution in California. If you are a resident in California and attend UCLA, your cost for tuition will be far less than that of someone who lives out of state. Specifically, in-state tuition costs for UCLA is $13,258, whereas the out-of-state cost is $43,012. Attending an in-state public university will save you a significant amount of money.

Financial aid- Financial aid is money you earn to help afford the cost of attending college. There are four types of financial aid: 

  1. Grants– Grants are issued by the federal government, state government, a private institution, or your school. This form of financial aid does not have to be repaid.
  2. Work-study jobs– The Federal Work-Study program allows undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to earn money while in school by working a part-time job. This program offers jobs related to the student’s course of study.
  3. Loans– Loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid. If you receive a student loan, you are borrowing money from the federal government or private sources. In addition to repaying the loan, you must accompany the payment with the interest that accrues.
  4. Scholarships– Scholarships are awarded to students based on merit, talent, or a specific area of study. Scholarships are offered to students from a variety of sources, including clubs, charities, foundations, and colleges and universities.

Learning Environments

It is crucial to assess a college’s academic style to see if it is compatible with your prime learning environment. Consider the following questions to determine whether a school’s learning approach is right for you:

  • Do I learn best when I’m academically comfortable or academically challenged?
  • How much balance am I looking for between studying and having a social life?
  • Is the school I am interested in suitable for my course of interest?

Throughout the college application process, never forget that you have access to assistance and support from your guidance counselor. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to ensure you select the best colleges for you.