One of the most difficult aspects of the college admissions experience is this feeling that you don’t have control over the process. That colleges make all the decisions. And that’s true, colleges do get to use their institutional priorities to eventually decide who is accepted into their class, but, one thing for sure you have control of is your list. 

And I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a balanced list.  

In fact, I would say the entire strength of your application can be broken by a weak list or made stronger by a strong list. 

What do I mean by balanced? 

I mean that you have at least three schools that I call SureFire Safeties (Or SureThing schools if you hate the word safety). SureFire Safeties are:

  1. schools where you’ve been accepted already or you are guaranteed admissions
  2. schools you like and can see yourself attending
  3. schools that are financially feasible for your family

Then you can add a mix of other kinds of schools — likelies, matchies, targets, and reachies. (Whatever — I don’t think what you call them matters). 

Then — if you’re interested (and I know some of you are) — you can throw in some near-impossibles: the schools that reject more than 80/90% of their applicants. 

Now imagine your list is a stool — if it just has one leg or maybe even two, it’s gonna topple over more than likely (and for your physics nerds, don’t debate the physics of this with me — I don’t do science. Just go with the metaphor).  The more legs your stool has the more stable it’s gonna be. Same for your list — the more kinds of rejectivities and selectivities and reasonables you have, the stronger your list will be. 

Now, why does a stronger list create a stronger application and better results for you in general? My first answer is always Karma (not Reddit Karma no),  but universe karma. From what I’ve seen over the last 8 years on the SubReddit r/ApplyingToCollege, is that the universe isn’t kind to applicants who don’t take advantage of this amazing opportunity to have some kind of control over the admissions process. And it shows in their admissions results — sadly. Don’t let the universe bash on you in the spring. Work now to create a strong list. 

Here’s why it makes you have better results. To create a strong list, you have to dig in and figure out what the fck you want out of your college experience — and that doesn’t come from focusing on the name of a school, or what your friends think, or the rankings of some defunct magazine trying to stay pertinent by playing into the fears of parents and applicants. 

A strong list comes from your asking yourself some important questions: 

What can you afford? What do you want your college experience to be like? What do your classes look like when you imagine them? What’s your engagement with your professors like? What are you doing on the weekends? What do you want your fellow students to care about? What areas of the country interest you? How do you feel about weather? 

Once you’ve done all that important internal work, you then have to spend a ton of time researching colleges to find the ones that will fit (or mostly fit what you’re looking for). Now the thing about fit is that it’s more like looking for the fit of a sock — not a shoe. It’s stretchy. 

And doing all that work will make your applications stronger because you will have learned more about what you want and what you want out of college and you’ll be able to write with more depth. And you’ll have looked for colleges whose missions connect with yours.  And colleges really really like that. 

So ask away about help with your list. You can always DM me if you want my input, but before you do so, be sure you’re doing the work you need to do to figure out what you want, so that your list can be super strong!