Picking US Colleges to Explore

  • Shveta
  • 09 Feb, 2020

Make a list and check it more than twice!

Shveta Bagade, Independent College Counselor, Bay Area, California.

 It is a jungle out there, when it comes to Colleges. There are thousands of colleges, well tens of thousands of colleges if you are talking worldwide. It is hard enough deciding which movie to watch on Netflix on a given night, so finding colleges is a much bigger deal. It can be confusing and complicated! 

Not to worry, I am here to make it a little easier for you when it comes to US Colleges. You will still have a lot of heavy lifting to do, but at least you know you are following a plan!



To make this work, there are 2 prerequisites before you start exploring colleges:

  • First, what major (or course) you plan to pursue in College. This decision may be based on your strong interest or passion for a particular course of study or a career goal, etc. Or, you simply don't have a particular major that excites you and you would just like to get a good undergraduate education. That's fine.

  • Second, your GPAs in high school so far, and Standardized Test Scores for the SAT or ACT.

Once you have the prerequisites, then you can start the process to determine a list of colleges to explore:


Steps to Start Exploring

Our goal here is to give you a process to pick colleges to explore, 5 colleges at a time. 

Step 1

Cast your net to find colleges with your major. If you do not have a major, then a good idea would be to look for colleges with liberal arts programs which would give you a broad undergraduate education.

Step 2

The list from Step 1 is pretty daunting, so let's apply your personal preferences that are important and non-negotiable as it applies to your college experience:

  • College Size - Small OR Big - as a function of number of students in the UG program;
  • College Location - Big City or Near one, suburban OR  rural - airport 3-4 hours away;
  • Climate - Warm OR Cold;
  • Annual College Cost - Money is no object OR $ you can afford;

At this point you have set of US colleges that match your college experience requirements.

Step 3

It is now time to pick an initial list of colleges to explore out of the list at the end of Step 2. To do this, 

  • Start with the Top 100 Colleges in your intended area of study;
  • Next, overlay that list over your Step 2 list;
  • Pick the first 5 colleges that are in both lists. That's your seed list to start your college exploration!

Step 4:

As you research each college on your initial list from Step 3, here are some guidelines on what to look for in a colleg

a) Check to see if your GPA and SAT score to pick colleges where your grades and scores are in the mid-range or higher of their admissions requirements. 

  • If Yes, then go to Step 4b; 
  • Otherwise put this college on the “No” list and go to the next college on your list from Step 3.

b) Determine which of these factors are important to you, and note if what the college has to offer matches your expectations or requirements. The factors are:

  • Academic Programs, Professors, Research
  • Career Placement, Medical/Graduate Programs
  • Internship/summer jobs/on-campus jobs
  • Cooperative experience (you work while studying, may take longer to graduate) 
  • Merit Scholarships/Financial Aid Availability
  • Lively School Spirit
  • Greek Life or Fraternity or Sorority
  • Extracurriculars you like - band, dance, mock trials, Indian dance, new clubs, etc.
  • Sports - intramural, recreation
  • Leadership - Student Government, Cultural Centers, Int'l Student Office, Student Life Organizations
  • Opportunities to Volunteer
  • Close to family - State(s)
  • Study Abroad - semester
  • Health Center access
  • Academic Support/Learning Centers

For each college, make a note of the factors above that are relevant/important to you. This will help you decide which colleges are worth exploring further.

Step 5:

After exploring and researching each college from the initial list, you need to determine if you want to keep the college on the list or not. If you have 10 or more, then share that list with your Counselor to discuss and refine.

If the number of colleges on the list is less than 5, then 

  • Find the next 5 colleges from the Top 100 Colleges in your area, that are also in the list from Step 2;
  • Add those 5 colleges to the list of colleges to explore;
  • Repeat Step 4 for these 5 colleges.

This is one of the most critical steps in the College Applications process. Every time you have a modified list, I would recommend that you have it reviewed by your counselor. The discussion around that review will further clarify your college requirements and provide insight into what other colleges you may want to explore.

Good luck with the college journey. May you find the right college!

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