How to Build a Balanced College List

Temi Ayetiwa
Published on
May 17, 2021

The college application process can be a scary task especially if you don’t know where to start. If you’re reading this you’re probably a motivated high school student ready to tackle the battle that is college application season. While it can be overwhelming, here at Simple Studies, we will provide you with tons of help and of course our support! Here are a few tips that can help you create a strong list of schools to apply to:

Do your research

This is the most important step. A school may look really good on a website or a pamphlet but could be entirely different in real life! This is even more important now that things are virtual and we can’t really visit schools or go on tours. Start by visiting the schools official website. Sign up for a webinar. Go on virtual tours. A good tip is to look up what current students at the school have to say. Maybe even reach out to someone on social media. These things can be very helpful when it comes to deciding what you want in a school.

Find the right fit for you

How do you know if a school is the right fit for you? This can be a very difficult question to answer because it’s so personal! A balanced college list has schools that you really love and are a good fit for you. Write down a few things that are important for you to have. A few things that can help is considering things like the location, weather, majors (and minors), travel abroad options, and especially the size of the school. Take the Forbes College Matchmaker quiz to get suggestions for you! While some of these things may not be the first things that pop up into your mind, they are definitely important factors to consider.

Reach, Match, and Safety schools

Separate the schools that you are interested in into a Reach, Match and Safety School list. It’s up to you to decide how many of each you apply to. Ideally most students apply to about 10-15 schools. The reason for this is to create options and to make sure that you don’t become overwhelmed with the amount of supplements plus other schoolwork that you will have to do.

A Reach school is a school that overall is very selective. They will most likely have an acceptance rate under or around 20% and the applicant pool is very competitive. A few schools that are considered reaches are the ivy league schools and schools like Stanford, Vanderbilt, and MIT.

A Match school is a school that is considered a perfect fit based off of your personal stats. Your extracurriculars and test scores are within range of what is expected so you are considered a good applicant for the school. Match schools are different for everyone. But they typically are schools that you would choose because they are a good fit for you academically, financially, and personally. A match school usually has an acceptance rate greater than 20% because any school under that is usually considered a reach school solely because of the competitive nature of the applicant pool. In order to build a balanced list, you should consider having more match schools on your list because they are schools that are most suitable for you.

A Safety school is essentially like a backup. Of course you would want to be just as interested in a safety school as a match, but the main differences are that your personal stats are way above the majority of the applicant pool and that a safety school has a high acceptance rate.

Consider Financial Aid

Financial aid is arguably the most important step in the process but is often an afterthought in the beginning. It can be really easy to dream of all the places that you want to go and schools that you want to apply to but unfortunately college costs a lot of money. It’s definitely a huge investment to make from application fees to the actual price of attendance. Even if you have the best stats in the world, it all comes down to what is affordable for you and your family. Make sure that you don’t waste money (and valuable time) applying to schools that are not a good fit financially. Also be sure to look into scholarships and grants when compiling your list of schools!

Picture yourself at every school on your list

Love every school on your list. At the end of the day college admissions can be as random as rolling a dice. You never know what is going to happen or where you will end up. Applying to schools just because of prestige or status may sound nice but may not lead to happiness because it may not be a good fit for you! Fit is so important because college is supposed to be the most exciting years of your life, so you’ll want to enjoy it! Focus on finding what works best for you and by doing that you will be able to build a balanced list!

Start Now

Even if you are a freshman in high school it never hurts to research a few schools that you have in mind. This will help you a lot in the future because you’ll have a general idea of where to start.

Read the next article in our college application guide: How to Apply for FAFSA

Find more free resources here!


see more

Blog Articles


Get updates on resources, scholarships, & more 👇

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.