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When applying to college, you may feel out-of-control, especially knowing that college admissions has the power to accept, deny, or waitlist your application. However, it’s important to remember that you are the customer! The same way you might research which new pair of sneakers is best for you, you should think about what you need and want from college. Here are some tips to get you started!


Define What You Need and Want From College

When building your college application list, you want to make sure you are choosing a selection of colleges that fit your needs. To determine your needs, reflect on what you hope to gain academically, socially, and emotionally from your college experience. Once you are able to articulate your needs in these categories, you can begin your search! Be sure to explore the different kinds of support services available to students. Which ones will be most important for your success? Another important question to ask as you begin researching different colleges: Is this school ready for me and who I am?

Explore Your Preferences

Think about your hopes for your college experience. What does that look like? A few aspects to keep in mind: size, location, religious affiliation, and so on. When browsing the websites of colleges, take a look at their “Student Life” section to explore types of clubs, athletics, and organizations offered on campus. You could also consider institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students. This includes HBCUs, HSIs, and TCUs. By thinking about your preferences for campus life, you can craft a college application list that fulfills the experience and community you are seeking.

Consider Your Future Hopes

If you have career goals in mind, start simple and research what majors are needed to achieve those aspirations. Then, be sure to research schools that offer the academic program you need.  And if you don’t know, which many people don’t at 17 or 18, that’s okay too! You will want to pick schools that provide a broad range of majors and programs to explore. You can also check out the career services office on campus. They will help you navigate major selection and career discovery!

Know Your Academics

Stay up-to-date on your GPA, test scores, and class rank. Though you are much more than a number, knowing your academic record can help you build your college list. Most importantly, it will make it easier to “match” your academic profile to that of the colleges you’re applying to. Students who “match” the academic level of their college tend to graduate at higher rates than those who do not. This idea of “matching” the colleges you choose is also described as applying to “target” schools. You can learn more about that terminology here.

Evaluate Your Financial Needs

There’s no doubt college is an investment in yourself and your future. However, it’s important to approach that investment wisely. Understanding your financial boundaries will help you create a college application list made up of colleges that are affordable for you. When considering the question of affordability, be sure to talk to your family and school counselor.

Before you build your college list, it’s important to consider what you want to gain from your college experience. We hope these five categories will help you get started.