20 Questions to Ask When Finalizing Your College List

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students talking in a table.

20 Questions to Ask Yourself When Finalizing Your College List

The key to having a smooth and faultless college application process is to start with a list. Similar to a to-do list, a college list is essential to identifying schools where you’d like to attend. For each school on your college list, you will need to submit application materials. Start completing your college list as early as possible.

Many of those application materials will overlap, but some schools may require specific materials that others don’t. Compiling your list of college lists early will help you to streamline the admissions process.

We’ve compiled the answers to 20 questions you should ask yourself when completing your college list.

1.What are my assets?

You are the most important part of completing your college list. Your list should be crafted entirely around you. What you want, what you envision, what you inspire to. These are the questions you should ask yourself as you identify colleges to add to your list, along with considering what are your chances of getting accepted. What do you bring to the process that is unique to you and will make you stand out from everyone else.

a male student writing something into his notebook

Once you have an idea of who you are, figuring out where you want to go to school will become clear. If your assets consist of strong math and science skills, you may look at and add schools that feature strong STEM programs. If you love reading and learning about different cultures, you may consider a history or interdisciplinary major. Base your college list on you and you will have identified schools that will help you to grow and develop.

2. What do I want to study?

Along with our assets, think about if there are any majors that you want to study. This is the point of completing a college list. You should choose a major that you are passionate about, so that your study informs your personal interests. Your college list should feature colleges that have the majors your want to study. It would be terrible if you selected a college, and it did not offer the major of your choice.

You would then have to settle for a substitute major, if you did end up attending the school. You want to get the most out of your college experience, so if you have a major already in mind, make sure the schools you identify list that major among its offered programs. Do this early in your research to avoid becoming attached to a school you could never attend.

3. How is my academic performance?

College application season is a time to be realistic with yourself. You’ll want to check in with your guidance counselor about your transcript and GPA. Take stock of how you’ve performed academically and how you might measure up against other students.

Three students talking in front of a laptop.

As you select schools to add to your college list, you should think about their selectivity and whether they require a certain GPA or coursework. Making sure you have the minimum requirements for academic performance will help you with completing your college list.

4. What application materials will each school need?

Each school will provide information about the application materials that are required for each program. The material you need to submit might also depend on the program you are applying to, so knowing the desired majors will also help you with knowing what you need to submit. As soon as possible, you should create a spreadsheet to organize your college list. Use headings like:

  • application and scholarship deadlines
  • average SAT/ACT/GPA
  • supplemental essay prompts
  • requirements specific to your major
  • tuition and housing costs
  • merit scholarships you are qualified for
  • distance from home
  • average cost of plane ticket home for holidays
  • potential for internship opportunities in the city beyond the college campus
  • cost to park on campus

Making this spreadsheet will help you to keep each school separate. It can also act as a checklist. You can highlight the cells for each school as you submit those materials. It is especially important to pay attention to the costs and scholarships offered, so you can compare the financial aid packages as well.

5. Will I need standardized testing?

Along with checking the application materials required, you will want to determine if the school requires any standardized testing. This is true whether you are a national or international student. The need to schedule testing if it is required means you’ll need to prearrange and preplan your college list. Making sure your test release dates and application deadlines align is important to be sure you submit all your materials on time.

6. Does the school offer virtual tours or college visits?

At some point, you will want to see the school you plan to attend. If the school is local, you may be able to schedule a campus tour. If the school is closed to campus viewings, then you may be able to access virtual tours or college fairs. Many schools now feature 3D campus tours on their websites.

A professor giving instructions to a student.

You could even watch the video using a VR headset to really bring the digital experience to life. The need to fully experience a campus can be a deciding factor when adding a school to your final college list. Having a beautifully landscaped and logically arranged campus is a winning feature for many college students.

7. How important is location?

Where you attend college is immensely important. If you prefer warmer clients, schools in the northeast would be a shock for the senses year round. If you want to remain home to save housing costs, school that are within commuting distance from your home will be important to include on your college list.

The distance you want to travel everyday or at least several times a year will eliminate many schools. Unless you are free to move anywhere, including out of the country, then thinking about geographic distances when completing your college list will help you to be realistic.

8. Do I want a large or small school?

The size of the school is important to identify your target schools. Larger campuses are like mini-cities with their own police department and bus transportation service. Universities can be anywhere from miles of acreage to just a few buildings on a city block.

The size of the school is another question to ask because your comfort level will determine how you feel on campuses that are larger or smaller. City students may have a preference for large campuses, while students from rural areas may prefer smaller campuses. Think about how you feel when you’re in a busy, crowded mall. Does it make you anxious and nervous? You’ll probably want to include small campuses. If it’s no big deal for you and you barely notice anyone else, then a large campus may not overstimulate you at all.

9. Do I prefer large or small classes?

The typical class sizes can range from ten students to four hundred depending on the subject and level. Beginners courses at some colleges may have lecture hall sizes classes with multiple TAs. This is not unusual at universities with tens of thousands of students. If you prefer more intimacy and personalization, then a smaller student body might make more sense. Schools with only a few thousand students may still feel larger, but the closeness of a particular program can feel more comfortable.

Students talking in a library.

The size of classes can determine how much attention you get from the professor and how much learning you are ultimately able to retain. Thinking about the class sizes as you make your selections is another critical question.

10. What kind of campus environment do I prefer?

Besides the size of the campus and the number of students, your college list should include an inquiry into the kind of environment you’d thrive in. Schools may have a visible Greek life or popular athletic sports teams. There may be religious affiliation with required chapel attendance. Other schools may heavily cultivate cohorts and small groups of researchers and intellectuals.

The general environment of a school will be clearer on campus visits than on website pages or brochures, but thinking about what the school feels like on a daily basis is another question that will rise as you complete your college list.

11. What academic programs do I need?

Students have similar academic needs during undergraduate that they did in high school. If they require academic support, like writing coaches and math tutors, then schools that offer these services will be another question to answer.

a high school class where the students are raising their hands

Besides supports, the availability of internship and study abroad opportunities should be included if you plan to participate in these activities. Colleges that offer these programs will stand a better chance of remaining on your final list than if they didn’t. Even wanting to take certain courses or work with certain renown professors, this is something to ask as you identify schools to add.

12. Which extracurricular activities will I want to participate in?

College is a time to continue exploring and solidifying your identity. The activities you participated in in high school are a good start. Colleges that offer similar sports and clubs that you want to be involved with gain points when you are comparing and contrasting.

If you are committed to volunteering and service advocacy, then schools with strong programs in this area will draw your attention as you search to fill out your college list. This is also true of any other affiliations you want to align with during college, especially religious worship and niche interest groups.

13. How much of a factor is cost?

For most schools, you will find a transparent posting of their tuition and fees along with projected living expenses. They do this to be honest about how much college attendance costs, but it doesn’t do anything to slow the rising costs.

For many students, the costs are a barrier, so knowing how they will pay for their education at a school will be a key question to consider. Schools that offer significant financial aid, waive tuition for low income families, and offer sizable grants and  scholarships will have a greater chance of standing on the list of a student who needs help lowering the costs of college. Schools that are expensive and don’t offer much financial aid may end up off the college list.

14. What are the retention and graduation rates?

It’s important to ask about the rate of retention at the schools you are considering for your college list. The number of students who return each year and who go on to graduate tell a story about the quality of the education and supports offered by the school.

Students who feel appropriately challenged and sufficiently supported achieve success. Schools with high retention and high graduation rates indicate a positive rating about the school on a variety of measures, including campus environment and costs. To complete your college list, find out how well each school retains and promotes its students.

15. Is the student population diverse?

For many students, the diversity of their peers is an important factor. Schools that have a diverse student body feel more welcoming to minority students. Knowing the demographics of a school can help a student to consider whether they’d fit in at a school they’d like to attend. The ability to feel connected to a school and bonded to classmates can help a student to continue on and complete their four years.

The social aspect of college life cannot be understated. Schools that value diversity will include this information, so that you can make sure you will be interacting and learning with a range of students from all ethnic, racial, geographic, gender, and religious categories.

16. How does the college rank against other schools?

While college rankings are about as important as senior year GPA rankings, the performance of a school often determines its ranking against other colleges. Schools that are highly ranked on various lists tend to offer world-class educational opportunities, but they also tend to be selective.

Rankings are not that important of a factor, and a school that doesn’t even rank in the top 100 may still offer you a strong post-secondary education. Rankings may help you with comparing schools in your list to each other, especially when it comes to differentiating between your target schools, your reach schools, and your safe schools.

17. How selective are the schools?

The selectivity of a school is something else to ask about as you are completing your college list. Highly ranked schools are usually selective, and they also tend to amass a significant volume of applications. The admissions officers likely have numerous applications to get through. One way to weed out alot of applications is through different measures for selectivity.

The most common ways colleges are selective is through median GPAs and test scores. These are the average scores for students who were admitted. Knowing how your academic performance measures up against the benchmark of median scores, then you can decide if a school is worth including on your college list.

18. How many schools do I want to apply to?

As you consider all the other factors, think about how many schools you reasonably want to apply to and await decisions from. Admissions experts recommend including at least three to five schools in the reach, target, and safe schools categories. This will ensure you are applying to schools you can aspire to, the reach, schools you are well suited to attend, the target schools, and school you are very likely to be admitted into, the safe schools.

If you cannot narrow your college list down to a limit of five, then applying to as many as 20 schools is possible with the Common App. This will cost you a pretty penny, so the total costs of applying at each school should also be calculated.

19. Would I attend this college if accepted?

Your final question to ask will reveal how you truly feel about the schools on your college list. You should ask yourself, “would I attend this college if accepted?” to identify if you are really as enthusiastic and committed to a school on your list as you would need to be to get through four years in attendance.

The true value of a school will lie in your overall assessment and whether you can envision yourself walking around its campus and meeting with its professors. If you can imagine yourself attending a school and you wouldn’t regret the sticker price you’ll need to pay, then adding the school to your college list and keeping it until the final round may lead you to finding the best college for you and your future.

AdmissionSight Helps Complete College Lists

AdmissionSight Experts can help you with researching, compiling, completing, and finalizing your college list. We can help you identify your assets and review your performance. We’ll use the information we gather about you to identify schools that you’d appreciate having on your list. From there, we work with you to submit complete, high-quality applications that spotlight your strengths and crystallize your ideas for the future. Contact AdmissionSight today to start thinking about your perfect college list.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.