How to Expand Your College List

This one is actually fun
April 20, 2020

Putting together your final list of colleges where you will apply is an art as much as a science.

One mistake we see many students make is that they zero in on a few colleges 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.

Since you are stuck at home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have plenty of time to explore colleges and see if you’ve overlooked a few that should be on your list.

Our favorite way for students to do this is to make use of an old school resource –a hard copy of the most recent edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. An oldie but goodie, the Fiske Guide has narrative descriptions of more than 350 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 exercises:

1. Consult this list.

This list breaks the colleges found in the Guide into categories based on selectivity: selective, more selective, most selective, and uber selective.

Two important notes about the list:

  • The Canadian, British and Irish colleges in the Guide are not included on this list.
  • Public colleges are placed in the category appropriate to in-state residents. For out-of-state residents, assume that the chances of admission will be lower. So a “most selective” college might become an “uber selective” college for an out-of-state applicant.

2. 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 pick a category where you don’t have any colleges but want to add some.

For example, if all the colleges on your list right now are in the most selective category, you might choose to 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 some schools where you’d have a higher chance? Then go for the more selective category.

Need some where you’d be reaching? Then go for the uber selective category.

3. Read the Fiske Guide descriptions for EVERY college in the category.

We promise, it’s not hard. Each description can be read in 1-2 minutes max. Pick at least three to investigate further by taking yourself on a virtual college visit.

4. 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 in the Guide 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 can be confident that you explored your options.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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