06/10/2013 03:34 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

It's Time to Find the Best Fit Schools for Your List

Why do you need a list of schools? Well, eventually you will need a job, so it's better to be prepared for that moment and having an education beyond high school is essential. Preparing a list of possible schools to continue your education is a good start in that direction. Yes, after you have selected what type of job you would like to have and have found out the type of education you will need for that (yeah, that's called a career path) it's time to create a list of schools.

You'll only need about ten universities in your list, so that shouldn't be a difficult task, should it? Well, it turns out it's not that easy! The best universities for your list are surely not the top ten schools in the list of school rankings from the USA News or the prestigious Ivy League schools or the schools that your ten best friends are going to. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2010 there were more than 4,000 options to study in an accredited university, so unless you close you eyes and randomly pick anything, you will need to do some looking around. Luckily, you soon realize that not all options are right for you and narrowing down the list is not all that hard.

What is a good fit university for your list? The answer depends on the interplay of several factors including your grades, your career aspirations and your economic situation. In other words, the best-fit university for you has the best academic level that you're eligible for, offers a degree in the area that will prepare you to successfully enter the job market in something you like and has a cost that you can afford.

So this is how you narrow down your options to a list of ten schools:

  1. Decide what is important for you in regard to the campus life: size, location, diversity of the student body and faculty and academic rigor. For each school you consider in this first round, take a look at how selective the school is: scores and GPA they require and percentage of students admitted. Schools differ in their admissions criteria; your academic credentials will ultimately play a big role in the kind of colleges you can get into.
  2. Visit websites that show aggregated information about universities, such as the College Navigator from the US government or the College Greenlight's college search tool. Look for graduation rates, dropout rates and transfer rates of all colleges you are interested and are eligible for -- especially if you are considering a 2-year college to start.
  3. Finally, look at affordability. Look at the College Scorecard and the websites of the universities to get the Real Cost of Attendance (COA) that includes more than just the tuition. Also, make sure you look at the Net Price Calculator that the universities are enforced to have available on their websites and that shows an estimation of the financial aid a student can expect. Another good resource to use at this time is the recently launched College Reality Check. Before you decide whether o not you can afford a school, make sure you understand all the financial aid available, from the federal and state government, the particular university and from private sources.

Now getting a final list of colleges might take a lot of digging here and there or you can just go to and learn all the nuts and bolts about it to create your list. Then, all you'll need to do is to let your guidance counselor have a look at it. Why, because he or she can recommend resources for you to start preparing for the entrance exams and to apply for financial aid and get money for college.

You'll see, it's never too soon. This summer make sure to look around and have your list of schools ready for when is time to actually apply to them early in your senior year.