Putting together your final list of colleges when it comes time to apply is an art as much as it is a science.
One mistake we see many students make is that they zero in on a few colleges early on, before they have really explored all the options out there. And they often rule out colleges that would be great fits because they really don’t know anything about them.
Our favorite way for students to learn about colleges without having to travel is to make use of an old-school resource: the most recent edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. An oldie but a goodie, the Fiske Guide has narrative descriptions of more than 320 selective colleges. The descriptions are short and easily digested and should give you a good sense of whether you’d like to learn more about the college or not.
If you’re up for the challenge of opening your mind to adding colleges to your list, then order a copy of the Fiske Guide and do the following exercise…
Consult this list, which breaks the colleges found in the Guide into categories based on selectivity (selective, more selective, most selective, uber selective).
Two important notes about the list:
Pick one category of colleges where you might want to add some colleges to your list – it is always good to have some balance in your list, so it is good to pick a category where you don’t have any colleges, but want some. For example, if all the colleges on your list right now are in the most selective category, you might choose from the more selective category or the uber selective category depending on how you would rate your chances of admission to the colleges on your list right now. Need schools where you’d have a higher chance? Then go for the more selective category. Need schools where you’d be reaching? Then go for the uber selective category.
Read the Fiske Guide descriptions for EVERY college in the category (don’t groan – the descriptions can be read in 1-2 minutes max!) and pick at least three to investigate further by taking yourself on a virtual college visit.
Decide which, if any, of the three you are going to add to your list.
Another way to do this exercise is to involve your parents or your friends and get their insights on colleges that you should investigate further. If you are involving your parents, then you give them the list for the category you have chosen. Have them read the descriptions and pick three colleges for you to investigate further. If you are involving your friends, then you swap lists – you read the descriptions for the colleges on your friend’s list and suggest three that your friend should investigate further and your friend reads the descriptions for the colleges on your list and recommends three colleges for you to investigate further.
Even if you don’t end up adding any colleges to your list from this exercise, you’ll benefit from knowing that you explored your options!