Want to attend the BEST college? How about a green college? Or maybe a cool college is what your student seeks. There are over 4,000 colleges to choose from and dozens of college ranking lists offering opinions. How do parents and their college-bound kids form a successful college list and pick the ones to apply for admission?
College lists are the basis of the entire college process because the student will most likely attend one of the schools on that list. Just like a home can crumble without a solid foundation, the lack of a successful college list can leave a student's academic and financial future in shambles.
College ranking lists are filled with facts, stats, and info but they differ because their selection methodology changes with each ranker. So why not personalize the process and create a personal college ranking list based on factors that are most important to an individual student and his or her family?
Here’s how to form a successful college ranking list in 4 steps:
1. Choose the College Criteria
The goal of personalizing college criteria is to find a student's college PALs. These are the schools that have the Programs, Activities, and Location he or she can’t live without. To find the answers to college criteria questions, go to the local library or go online. Carefully consider the type (a general catalog analyzing many schools or a specific college’s marketing material) and the source of information (media or individual-high school counselor, college advisor, relative, friend).
Separate fact from opinion and well-meaning from professional advice. Beware, some sources may contain both. For example, college ranking lists may contain info about a school that is factual but the ranking number may be based on opinion. Also, what’s a good fit for someone else may not suit a particular student.
2. Categorize College PALs
After choosing college PALs, it’s time to sort them according to the likelihood of receiving an offer of acceptance and the family's ability to afford attendance. Colleges have admission requirements such as high school grades in college preparation courses, cumulative high school grades (GPA), high school class rank, and SAT/ACT admission test scores. Place each of your college PALs into these categories:
• Safety schools: Student’s qualifications exceed college admission requirements and most likely to be offered admission.
• Reach schools: Student’s qualifications do not fulfill all requirements as compared to other applicants but really wants to attend.
• Target or match schools: Student’s qualifications meet all admission criteria.
• Financial safety schools: Those colleges in each of the above categories that families know they can afford. If planning to take out education loans, know the maximum amount you can afford to borrow based on projected income. Note there are borrowing costs such as origination fees and interest charges added to the principal during repayment.
3. Go See
After the colleges are placed in categories, it is time to go see for yourself.
• College fairs: Use this opportunity to pump college representatives (College Admission Office employees, recent graduates or alumni) for insider tips such as the best majors from that campus that get the best jobs and the ease of graduating within four years.
• Virtual Visits: Many colleges have virtual tours of their campus on their website.
• Collegecation: Combine a college tour with a family vacation. The more time spent at the school, the better chance to see how you fit.
Students can reserve a space to sit in on an information session, take the tour, shadow a current student, sit in on a class, speak with a professor, have an interview. As for the vacay part of a collegecation, college websites often mention free and low cost things to do on campus and in the surrounding area.
4. Rank the Schools
A successful college list contains between 6-8 colleges any one of which the student should be happy to attend. Pick the lucky favorites that make the grade. Make sure each college category (Safety, Reach, Match, Financial safety) is represented, with the most listed under Match. Keep in mind college is supposed to help not hinder a student's financial future. Make the final college choice after reviewing financial aid awards from schools offering admission.
Now get the college applications for schools on your personal college rankings list and apply before their deadlines!