College Search

Searching for Colleges and Developing the College Application List

Searching for colleges that meet your needs and developing your college list is one of the first steps in the college planning process. There are many ways to research colleges and some ideas are included below:

1. YourPlanForTheFuture (YPFF) is a FREE online portal that gives parents and students access to a multitude of college planning resources.
Just click on the YourPlanForTheFuture  link and sign up for your free account today.

2. The College Board. This is another great web site where students can do a quick college search, practice for the PSAT and SAT, and register for the SAT.

A balanced college application list will include “reach” schools, “target” schools, and “safety” schools. When developing a list, keep in mind the following general guidelines:

Students should apply to an AVERAGE of 5-10 colleges. The more competitive your intended major is, the more colleges you should consider applying to. Students should apply to a wide mix of schools as well. Be sure to include any “reach” schools that fit your needs. “Reach” schools are considered to be those highly selective colleges, i.e. colleges that require the highest GPA’s and most competitive standardized test scores.  A college would be considered a “reach” school if its requirements (GPA, SAT/ACT, Academic) are typically higher than those demonstrated by the student. Be sure to also include “target” schools on your list as well. A “target” school would include a college that has historically enrolled students with a similar profile to the student (looking at GPA, course rigor, and Test Scores). When determining their college application list, students should be certain to choose “target” schools for the majority of their list. YES, students should apply to “reach” schools that meet their needs as well, however, their entire list should not include “reach” schools. In addition to “target” and “reach” schools, students should include at least two “safety” schools on their list. For a college to be considered a “safety” school, the student applicant should far exceed the stated admissions criteria for that college. Selecting a combination of colleges for the application list is suggested when thinking about the college application process.

After researching colleges online, the next step will be to visit colleges in the area, if possible. Many tips on how to make the most of a college visit are included below.

Visit Colleges and Attend “Information Sessions” and “Open Houses”

Your college visits count as educational time and will count as an excused absence IF you complete the visit form and have it signed off by the admission counselor at the college you visit.  Return this form to your guidance counselor or the attendance monitor.  

REGISTER ONLINE or call colleges in advance to make an appointment.  If it is a college you are very interested in, request an interview and bring along an unofficial transcript. Keep business cards of the admissions counselor so you have a contact for any future questions. Some helpful hints are listed below:

  • Arrive on time or early
  • Avoid slang, street language, even if the interviewer/guide is young. Dress appropriately, but wear comfortable shoes (you will be on a long walk)
  • Be prepared with questions to ask as it shows you are serious and interested.
  • Talk to coaches of sports in which you may want to participate
  • Ask students what they love/dislike about the college
  • Imagine yourself attending that college for two or four years…how does that feel?

 Research the College in advance

  • What are the majors offered?  Can I dual major?  Is there a study abroad program?
  • Is there a placement test like the Accuplacer?  Are there remedial courses?
  • How many students are in an average class and what is the student-faculty ratio?
  • What are the academic resources? (Writing center, math center, peer tutors, study groups)
  • What if I have an IEP/504…are accommodations available?
  • What sports/activities are available?  What is there to do for fun?
  • What are the dorms like? Is housing guaranteed for freshman, what about upper classes?
  • Can I have a car on campus?
  • How is the food?  Is healthy food available?  How does the food plan work?
  • Is the campus safe? What is there to do in the local town/city?

Admissions Related Questions

  • What are the minimum requirements for admission?  What tests? SAT, SAT II, ACT
  • Are admission standards different depending on which major I am pursuing?
  • What kind of financial aid can I receive at this college?


What geographic area of the country do you want to study in? Be sure to think this through carefully and discuss with your parents.

These are some of the things to think about when developing your college list. Choose colleges that “fit” your needs – both from an academic standpoint as well as from a geographic, size, and cost perspective as well. The combination of researching colleges on YourPlanForTheFuture and doing college visits will help you determine an appropriate college application list.

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