Creating the College List

03/24/2015 10:39 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2015
Hero Images via Getty Images

For many, there are colleges that students are intent on going to, expect to be accepted, and can afford. It could be a state university, a school that friends are going to, a school students have been told about, or an elite private school where some are qualified.

However, these college factors do not cover numerous variables about college life that are significant such as academics and affordability. Creating the college list is individualized and personal. If you are flexible and your goal is to attend a university that is a good fit for you, your interests, and your future, then creating a college list is paramount and should involve the following factors:

1. Create files and stay organized. Use a specific notebook or online files for any notes, communications, ideas, and questions. Anything that relates to your eventual college list should go in one place. Each college should receive a designated page that can be referred to later for essays, interviews and more.

2. Make a list of your priorities. What are you looking for in a college? Do you like a smaller college in a rural area or a larger public university in big city? a large student enrollment or smaller? Academic programs of interest? Activities? Opportunities? Climate?

3. AFFORDABILITY For some, this is not an issue. For most, it is. It is important to know what your family is able and willing to pay in out of pocket expenses. Also, it is wise to consider you and/or your parent's willingness to incur debt. If there is a gap between the Expected Family Contribution and the Cost of Attendance, you will want to look for schools that provide a large percentage of need through Federal Aid and have a solid record in providing merit or Institutional Aid. If you are not eligible for significant need-based aid, then you are going to want to apply to schools where you will be in the upper 25 percent of applicants as far as GPA and test scores. Statistics on schools' generosity or lack of are readily available. It is good to work with a college financial planner who is familiar with using the numerous resources available.

4. Explore colleges within your area that are different -- a public and private college. Visiting gives students a much clearer idea of what they want and what they don't!

5. ADMISSIBILITY Use resources such as College Data, College Board's Big Future, College Results, Fiske Guide, the college website and a slew of others. Create your long list of schools for further review. Note the admission requirements. Do remember that any guide or website does not know you. So, it is best to review with a counselor to find your best fit.

6. Make a list of factors that are your priorities: activities, career center, academics, housing, athletics, size and location, cost

7. Once you have completed your research, it's time to put together a preliminary college list. It's best to create categories of reach, 50/50 and likely acceptance. This list could have 20-30 colleges on it. Once this is complete, review your personal criteria, do further research and begin to narrow your list. Narrow your categorized list to your working college list to include about 10 colleges. Try to accomplish this by the start of summer so you are prepared when the Common Application and other colleges release their applications for your season. Don't hesitate to get help! Creating your college list can get complicated and you most likely will have many questions.