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    Feeling “Listless” about Your College List? Help is Here!

    Feeling “Listless” about Your College List? Help is Here!

    Posted August 19, 2021, 3:07 pm by Kathleen Glynn-Sparrow

    Summer Reading List. Waitlist. To-Do List. Yuck!

    Guest List. Wish List. Bucket List. Yay!

    So, where does the College List fit in?

    Well, for most high school students, constructing a college list is a daunting, overwhelming task--but it needn’t be. Read on for tips to craft your college list.

    Where to Start

    Fact: You should apply to 8 to 12 colleges to ensure that you will have many happy choices in the end. (I know, I know--your parents only applied to a handful of colleges--but times have changed).

    Fiction: The more colleges you apply to, the better chance you have of admission. Nope. Applying to more than 12 colleges means less time to spend writing quality supplements--those pesky short answers some colleges require-- and less time for school work (still the most important factor in college admissions). Instead of making it longer, make your list strategic, with a balance of reach (long shot), target (50-50 chance), and likely (good bet) schools.

    So, where do you start? Think of the list like an ice-cream cone: it starts off big and as it goes down, it gets smaller. You should start with a list of 15 to 20 colleges of varying sizes, locations and campus vibes. No need to eliminate anything this early.

    Take advantage of trustworthy online search engines like those in your high school’s college counseling program (such as SCOIR, Naviance, Maia Learning, Cialfo, etc.), web-based resources like The College Board’s Big Future, or books like The Fiske Guide.

    These resources can be overwhelming so stay focused by thinking about what is important to you….use the LIST acronym below to start identifying schools that might be a good fit..


    L: Location

    Are green spaces (think tossing a frisbee on the quad) important to you? Or perhaps you like non-stop action and access to the city?

    I: Interests

    In your free time, do you enjoy outdoorsy activities like skiing or hiking? Or maybe you are eager to paint your face and cheer on the college sports teams? Perhaps you would rather catch a concert or a comedy show in the city?

    S: Size

    Take a big state school, for example. When classes change, there will be a sea of people. Do you find that overwhelming or energizing? Are you okay with being in a lecture hall of 300 students? Or on the flip side, would you rather be at a smaller school where your professors know you well, and classes are more discussion-based? Maybe medium-sized is your “Goldilocks” (just right!) fit.

    T: Type

    Not sure what you want to study? Liberal arts colleges give you the opportunity to dabble in different subject areas. All about engineering? Technology-focused schools may be your vibe!

    So What’s Next?

    After you have compiled a working list of 15 to 20 colleges, start with virtual visits. Better to visit from your couch to see if you like the look and feel of the college than to take time off from school/work and pay for a hotel, flight, car rental, etc. only to find out it is not for you.

    Like what you see? Put brief notes in a Google Doc. Invite your parents to do the same--they can do virtual tours in their own time as well.

    Then, plan on visiting in-person your top three to five colleges. Be sure to put notes in your Google Doc after seeing the campuses as well. This will help you distinguish between the colleges as they tend to blend together--and it will help you add details to those pesky supplements which ask, “Why do you want to attend our college?”

    Remember, this is a process--you will start with a big list and then whittle it down as you explore online and in-person. Aim to have your list of colleges finalized by August 1 of your senior year so that you can begin your applications and supplements before school kicks into gear in the fall.

    And, now that you know how to create your college list, you can focus on that Bucket List!

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    Kathleen Glynn-Sparrow

    Kathleen Glynn-Sparrow

    Kathleen recently served as the Director of College Counseling at McLean School. Previously, she worked for 9 years at Stone Ridge in college counseling and as English Department Chair. She was also Director of College Counseling at St. Andrew’s. Kathleen earned her B.A. from Duke University and her M.Ed. from Emory University. She has spent over 22 years counseling families about the college process.