The Meme-ing of Life: Creating a College List

Similar to the rest of the high school seniors, juniors, sophomores, and maybe even freshman, college engulfs my mind. Even if I’m not trying to focus on it, it still seeps into the nooks and crannies in my cranium. Although I’m excited for college, it’s undoubtedly stressful thinking about such a substantial change into a more complex academic and social environment. There’s a great deal to think about: which colleges to apply to, deciding a major, paying for college, and the application process itself. Sometimes, I hesitate to think about it altogether, because it lets loose the avalanche of thoughts I have about college. However, in this post, I’m going to set that avalanche free in the hopes of focusing on the process I used to help me finalize my college list.

This is one of my favorite memes and it embodies how I feel about college.

There is a multitude of college to choose from. Whether you have no idea which colleges you like, or you merely want to narrow down your endless list of colleges, hopefully this process will cover all the bases on what you might have missed. Also, this plan is ideally for sophomores or juniors, but the earlier you start thinking about college, the better.

Choosing Colleges to Apply to:

  1. Talk to your parent/guardian about your financial situation. Overall, your decisions should be made to make you happy, but it also needs to be realistic.
  2. Know what you want. It only makes sense that your list of prospects is filled with colleges you actually want to go to. You don’t have to focus on all the minute details now, but outline what you want in a college. Envision a college that you can see yourself being comfortable at. Differentiate factors that you must have from those that are just preferences. Factors that you solely prefer can be set aside when choosing “safety” schools. Here’s a list of factors and questions that I consider important. They aren’t really in a particular order, and you’ll notice some overlap.
    • Think about location. Do you want to stay in-state, or are you open to going out of state? Do you want to go out of the country? Do you prefer the campus to be in rural, suburban, or metropolitan surroundings? This decision can also align with your major, or choice to commute or live on campus.
      I knew I wanted to stay in California because my family lives here. Also, it’s ideal to stay near Silicon Valley because I’m interested in the technology industry. For the most part, I want to live on campus. I wouldn’t mind if the campus is in the city or the suburbs, but it might be hard to accommodate to rural surroundings because I grew up in a city, and I plan to occasionally go off campus.
    • Four-year or two-year. Are you planning on transferring? What type of degree do you want to get?
      I can’t speak for all majors, but for some professions, you can obtain an adequate job with an Associate’s Degree.
      I want to go to a four-year university because I want to have the academic and social experience from start to finish, but I am open to the idea of starting at a two-year and transferring to a four-year.
    • Private or public. Do you want to go to a co-ed school? Do you want a school with a religious affiliation? Don’t eliminate private universities just because you think your financial situation will act as a hinderance. If they want to accept you, most private universities are generous with financial aid, even more so than public universities.
      I’m open to going to either one, but I prefer public because they tend to be larger, which will allow me to meet more people. This is a perfect segue to…
    • Size of school and the size of its classes. Pretty self-explanatory, it depends on how you prefer your learning environment.
      I want to go to a relatively largely-populated school because it will allow me to meet more people, but it would be more beneficial to have smaller classes for easier access to the professors.
    • Housing and Food. Do you want to live on-campus or off-campus? Do you envision yourself living in a dorm or apartment? Do you plan eating on-campus most of the time? Be mindful that some colleges require you to live on campus for a certain number of years.
      I prefer to live in a dorm and eat on-campus for at least two years.
    • Expenses and Financial Aid. Do you know your budget? Do you plan on signing up for scholarships?
    • School Spirit. Would you prefer a very active student body, or do you want a more laid-back student body?
      My ideal university has a very supportive student body, where everyone is passionate about what they want to do in life. There would also be plenty of clubs and organizations to participate in.
    • Sports. Can you see yourself playing sports in college? If so, which sports and at which level?
      If I play sports, it would be anything intramural.
    • Selectivity. What is your GPA? This mostly applies to juniors, but what is your SAT score range or ACT score? Some colleges are more selective than others, and therefore harder to be admitted into, so keep that in mind to make a realistic list.
      For example, if you live in California and you want to apply to a UC, it is required that you have at least a 3.0 GPA. Therefore, you should be able to approximate what type of school you are aiming for.
  3. In order to broaden your knowledge of all the colleges in your preferred location, you can do a couple different things. You can go to college fairs, ask friends, family, teachers, or counselors, or use a college search tool.
    I went to a lot of college fairs, where representatives from colleges all over the country could answer questions and hand out pamphlets about their college. I learned about most of the college fairs from school, so it wouldn’t hurt to get information from your counselor. While visiting your counselor, or any friends, teachers, family members, or anyone that went to college, you can ask which college they went to and if they have any advice or recommendations about college programs they may have heard about. Lastly, I used College Board’s College Search , which was very helpful because it cross searches a bunch of colleges with the factors that you value. I highly recommend using it, there are even international schools listed on it. These will allow you to learn about schools that you otherwise wouldn’t have known they existed.
  4. Now that you educated yourself about different schools it’s time to start forming a list. You had to have found a couple of colleges that piqued your interest, or perhaps you found too many. Most college information sessions I have been to recommend that you have at least two or three “safety” schools, at least two or three “match” schools, and at least two or three “reach” schools. I recommend that you should have about six to ten colleges on your list, but it really depends on yourself and the colleges you are applying to.
    For instance, my friend is applying to about twenty schools. Why twenty? Doesn’t that seem like too many? Well, that’s what I thought too, especially because I know how intelligent she is. I’ve known her since kindergarten, and any school would be lucky to have her. However, after she told me which schools she plans on applying to, it made sense. Most of her choice colleges, such as the Ivy Leagues, have acceptance rates of about 10% or less, which is extremely selective. She knows what’s best for her, and she’s playing it safe.

  5. Even though you just formulated a list, there’s still a lot to do. It’s smart to research the colleges in depth to see if they are the right fit for you. You can do several activities, such as ask someone their experience at that college, look at the college pamphlets that describe the lifestyle on-campus, dive into their website, or the most effective in my opinion, visit the campus. I know not everyone has the opportunity to visit the colleges they are interested in, but it is worth it to check them out. In general, this whole researching process takes longer than you think. Whether you have billions of tabs open from looking at the college websites or you decide to visit the college campuses, I highly recommend taking notes. After awhile all the information meshes together and it’s hard to differentiate which detail belongs to which college. In the end, it will make it easier for you to rank them.

    Campus tours are magical
  6. Know the applications’ opening dates, as well as their crucial deadlines. Mark them on a calendar. Learn about what the applications require.
  7. Last step to creating your college list is to follow through. Apply to the colleges on your list and try your hardest. All of this hard work will pay off when you get your acceptance letter. Even though it’s stressful, it’s still possible. There are many students in the same shoes as you right now.

That’s pretty much it, as far as making a college list. Nevertheless, there’s still more to think about. Regarding financial aid, you should understand the FAFSA, know its deadline, and consider applying for outside scholarships. Regarding choosing your major, try asking people about their jobs, do activities related to jobs that can see yourself making a living off of, take classes and research. Regarding getting motivated instead of overwhelmed, I recommend watching college-related YouTube videos. Try to avoid going too far down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos and getting distracted because as fun as it seems, it isn’t productive.

Even though this process is very stressful, it makes a big difference to stay organized and motivated. Hopefully, this plan mitigated the entire college process by detailing all the points I thought about in my experience. Good luck to everyone who is applying to college!