Choosing the schools you will apply to...

Choosing Your College List!!

So this is the time of year that 12th Graders should really have chosen all of their schools they will be applying to in the Fall.  Many students have a hard time deciding on their final choices.  I want to address this in this edition of the CollegeSource Blog.

I think that one of the biggest problems is that students like to do this backwards.  That is, they question whether they will get into a college, based on it’s popularity, it’s average SAT scores, it’s Aura!!  I think that the best place to start is with your own preferences.

As we remind our students at CollegeSource over and over, this is a great opportunity for self exploration.  You will feel so much more empowered if you “own” this process and choose your schools based on what you want.  Some of the larger categories to think about in terms of preferences would be:

Academic Life:  What are your academic interests? Not necessarily your “Major”, that may change and is one of the great things about the flexibility of the US Undergrad program, just think about what areas are you interested in.  What is your academic ability? We often think that getting into the most selective college, whether we are academically capable of dealing with it or not, is the best thing.  But just ask an overwhelmed student mid way through the semester what he thinks of this logic.  Sometimes it might be better to be the BIG fish in a Smaller pond.

Size. If you thrive at a small school where there is a lot of individual attention, you may not be happy at a large university. Larger schools may be very exciting, have amazing sports and a huge choice of great majors and professors, but if you prefer smaller classes and getting to know your faculty, a smaller college might be a better fit.

Location and Setting. This includes geographical area as well as setting: rural, suburban, urban.  Try to imagine what it will be like in those environments and weather.  Remember, you will be there for 4 years!!  if you like to be near theater, museums, and nightlife, you may want to reconsider a rural college that has little access to the cultural offerings of a city-based school.

Social Life/Extracurricular Activities. Making friends and meeting new people is a vital part of college life, so you will want to consider whether a school is coeducational or single sex; the ratio of males to females; or the general student-body atmosphere. If sports and clubs are important to you, be sure that that school has a variety of extracurricular activities.

After you have made a list of things that constitute your “preferences”, you may want to look into your constraints:

Admission Standards. After you've completed your personal evaluation-taking into consideration your course-work, test scores, class ranking, general academic strengths, as well as your outside interests-you must honestly decide whether you are eligible for admission to a particular school.  Again, I would urge you to really question schools that are a major stretch for you academically.  If you do get in, will it be worth it to have to work like a dog just to be in the bottom third of class?

Cost. For International students, financial aid is limited.  If cost is an issue, definitely understand the institutional aid offered at the school.  You may also want to look into public schools in the mid-west region of the US, they tend to be less expensive.  I would like to de-mystify one myth I have heard in India many time, “it is easy to get into the Top schools if you can pay for it”.  This is not true, they have plenty of applications in the “no-need” category.  However, it is true that it may be more difficult in many schools to get admission if you cannot pay for it.  The reason is that they may not have enough money to offer you and would then think that you would not be able to come.  Therefore, they would rather say no to you than you say no to them.

So, where do you find all of this information?

Many students get frustrated when looking at the college websites and throw up their arms stating, “They all look the GREAT!”  Well, yeah!  They spend loads of money trying to impress you.

Here are some sites that have Student Reviews of schools:

Here you can see many College Videos:

Here is a great survey form based on the preferences described above:

To understand more about average SAT scores and grades of the students getting into various schools, I like to look at US News or The College Board’s site.

US News:


When you see SAT scores listed as 25-75 percentile.  One can generally estimate that if you are in the middle 50%, you have a decent shot.  If you are above the 75th percentile, well, that is pretty likely admit.  Below the 25th percentile, you better have some other amazing hook if you want to get in, and you should consider how it will be to go to school there, given 75% of the students are likely stronger than you academically.

Here is another exploration site that I like: