For many students, choosing which colleges to apply to can be a daunting task—but it doesn’t have to be! In this article, I’ll share my recommendations on generating a long-list of schools, which can then be whittled down into a short-list.

By the way, similar principles apply when it comes time for you to work on your college scholarship applications.

What is a long-list of colleges?

A long-list is a list of 15 to 20 colleges and universities that spark your interest. You can compile the long-list intuitively and go with your gut when you put it together—afterward, you’ll flesh out your list with details on each college’s selectivity, cost, student body profile, location, academic and extracurricular programs, and so on. After you’ve done your research (and perhaps visited some schools), you’ll be able to pare the list down into a short-list of 8 to 10 schools to which you’ll actually apply. The goal of a long-list is to get you thinking broadly about the kinds of colleges and universities you’d like to attend, with the ultimate goal being the creation of a short-list that includes schools you can imagine yourself happily attending.

How to begin generating a long-list of colleges

Chances are you’ve heard of a few colleges already—whether from friends or relatives who’ve attended certain schools or from sports, TV, or movies. Do any of the colleges you know about strike you as a good fit? Ask your friends and family about their experiences and add the colleges you’re already considering to your list!

Guidebooks can help you

The Fiske Guide to Colleges is great, as is the Princeton Review’s best colleges book. In addition, Loren Pope’s Looking Beyond the Ivy League and Colleges That Change Lives are classics.

Take advantage of the Internet

There are many great college search websites at your disposal. Start searching on College Board’s Big Future database, The Princeton Review College Search website, US News, or Peterson’s.  As you navigate these web sites, feel free to take note of things like selectivity (what percent of applicants get in), cost, location, and so on. Remember that although college rankings can help you come to a decision on which schools to apply to, you want to focus on finding a college that’s going to be a good fit for you based on your needs, wants, and abilities.

Aim for a range of selectivity and cost

Although you’ll consider these factors in greater depth when compiling your short-list, the long-list should contain schools of varying degrees of selectivity and cost. I recommend creating a three-tier system for each school: Possible (selective or expensive), Probable (moderately selective or moderately expensive), and Safe (not selective, inexpensive). Both your long-list and your short list should include schools from each category, based on your goals, interests, and abilities.

Take note of any special programs

If you know what you’d like to study in college, take note of any special programs colleges and universities offer in your field. Visit each college’s web site to gain additional information.

That’s it! Soon you’ll gather as much information as possible about the schools on your long-list—and possibly visit a few—to help you generate the short-list of colleges to which you’ll actually apply. Stay tuned for our article on what information to consider when generating a short-list!

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For more college application advice, check out the rest of our blog. If you’re looking for help polishing your college applications and essays, contact us today!

Additional Resources: “Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers” Video Course

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