The Art of the College List

Just as there’s an art to making a good cup of coffee (boil cold water, I’m told), there’s a way to craft a college list that satisfies both students’ and families’ needs.

Some parents want their student a car-ride away while the student wants to be overseas. Many families straddle the financial aid divide and want their student to attend a public university while their student wants to attend a private four-year college.

After listening to students and their families, I devise a list using the three Cs:


What’s the personality of the student? What’s the tenor — and size — of their high school? Are they craving a radical shift or a small sea-change? Often, a more reserved student will choose a spirit school, a campus that’s lively on weekends with a sports culture that the student may or may not participate in but craves that energy. Similarly, a student with an outgoing nature may opt to be a big fish in a smaller pond and matriculate at a mid-size school. Regardless, identifying the character of the school can be helpful when winnowing and tightening a list to develop an application strategy.


Some students apply to colleges already knowing what they want to major in and pursue as a career. Other students have no idea what courses they want to take Freshman Year. The pendulum can swing that wide. Advising systems, course requirements, open curriculums, core curriculums, independent studies, pre-requisites — each school has its own way of supporting a student as they navigate their college journey. Researching how “deep” various majors are in terms of class offerings and availability is key before applying to a school that a student simply “likes the feel of.” Before hitting submit on an application, make sure your student’s academic needs can be met regardless of whether or not they know their area of study.


One of my family’s financial situation shifted after the student gained an ED acceptance; they became worried about committing to the full tuition. There are wonderful experts in the realm of college financial planning, payment and loans, as even the best-laid, calculated and saved-for plans can change. Creating a college list that targets schools known for their generous merit aid offerings is helpful, as is considering filing a FAFSA regardless of a family’s current financial situation.

NOTE: Please register at for a special Half-Hour College Touring Zoom Q&A on Tuesday, March 9th at 6pm.

For more information about College Counseling/Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for “news you can use,” please check out my blog, videos, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.