Tools Needed: Building the College List

Your child has dreams of going to UCLA, University of Texas Austin, or University of Colorado Boulder and you live on the east coast and are thinking of colleges within a three hour radius of your home.  How do you meet in the middle and help your child build a realistic college list?

In addition to distance from home and location, there are other factors to consider.  What size school and setting are the best fit for your child? How much are tuition and fees?  What are the admission requirements?

Most students have an image of what college life will look like–it can be conjured from stories they have heard from friends and family, influenced by movies,  or developed from their own personal experiences. Some students see themselves at a college with a lot of school spirit, perhaps attending a basketball game at Villanova or tailgating before a football game at Notre Dame.  Others see themselves working in a lab conducting research with a professor or making their way through the hustle and bustle of New York City as they leave the campus grounds of Columbia and hurry to their internship. Asking your child to share what they believe college will look like for them is a great starting point.

Conversations that should happen early in the college search process are the limitations on the cost of college and distance from home.  Attending a college that is not within driving distance translates to additional costs for airfare or of your child not being able to go home as often as they would like.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is the option to attend a local college and live at home which can save thousands of dollars on room and board reducing the overall cost of college.  Letting your child know what you can reasonably afford to contribute to their college education helps you avoid having to tell them you can’t afford the tuition when they get accepted into their dream school.  Setting a limit on what you will spend on college does not mean eliminating a college because of the initial price tag. Grants and scholarships can lower the cost without you or your child accruing debt. Tools like net price calculator can assist in determining what you are expected to contribute toward tuition.  

The other significant factor to consider is the academic criteria for admission to the college.  As you and your child compile a college list, it should consist primarily of target schools which are colleges that are aligned with your child’s academic profile.  Grade point average and test scores should be slightly higher than or on par with what the college requires for acceptance. Your child should also include several safety schools on their list–these should be both academic and financial safety schools. Safety schools should be selected with the same care as the target schools and should be a college your child would be happy to attend.  Every college list should have a few dream/reach schools on them. While your child’s grades and test scores may be slightly lower than what the college is looking for, it is the college that your child dreams of attending. Go ahead, add it to the list!  

The initial college list, is just that, a starting point.  Colleges will be added and removed as the college list is refined reflecting all aspects of what you and your future college student are looking for in a school.  Take advantage of resources such as College Navigator, Niche, and College Board’s Big Future where you can discover schools that may not be on your radar.  There are a lot of hidden gems out there! Your initial college list may be long, as you take campus tours and delve deeper into your research about different colleges, the list will naturally be whittled down.  Think of it as window shopping where the possibilities are endless!

Leave a Reply