College List Mistakes to Avoid

Once you hit the second semester of your sophomore year in High school, creating a college list should be a main priority. You will still have plenty of time to finalize your college list and choose the best schools to apply to, but not everyone knows how to make a college list—that is, a list of colleges they will apply to—that fully meets their needs. 

In this post, we’ll help make this daunting task a little easier with simple tips and suggestions for developing your college list. We’ll also highlight some potential mistakes that applicants make so you can avoid common pitfalls. 

It’s natural for students to make mistakes as they decide what colleges to add to their list, but, with our post, you’ll be able to create a college list that will fast-track your application process. So, what are our top college list mistakes? 

1. Just Applying to Exclusive or Highly-Selective Schools

As you make your college list, you’ll want to be realistic and keep your options open. Finding a school that suits your academic goals and interests is important, and you’ll want to attend a top school that will provide the best educational experience, but we still recommend applying to a range of schools to increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter.

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While it’s perfectly fine to apply to Ivy League and other reach schools, students should also apply to a few mid-tier and safety schools. Ambition is good you’re applying to colleges, but the acceptance rates of Harvard, Yale, and other top schools can be as low as 6%. 

Even if you have amazing grades, perfect test scores, and a stellar resume of extracurriculars, you’re still more like to get rejected from these schools than to be accepted. Don’t be afraid to list more competitive schools, but make sure that your college list includes more than just Ivy League and other highly selective schools.  

2. Not Applying to Selective Schools

On the same note, you shouldn’t limit yourself to safety schools. List schools that you think will challenge you if you’re accepted, especially if you have good grades and a well-rounded list of extracurriculars. While you might be a little uncomfortable or scared, adding top-ranked schools to your list expands your range of possibilities. 
By doing so, you’ll have a nice selection of schools to apply to, and you won’t have to wonder if you could have gotten into a better college. Really, you never know which schools might accept you. In short, your college list should include more selective schools, along with schools that are more likely to accept you.

3. Not Creating a College List

Some students decide they don’t need to create a college list, preferring to put all their effort into applying to their one dream school. Whether you plan on going to a school that a family member attended or you have dreams of going to a specific college, we don’t recommend avoiding making your college list. 

You might have your mind set on attending one specific school, or maybe you think you should limit yourself to just a couple schools, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it into your dream schools. 
It’s fine to be optimistic, but it’s also important to stay realistic and plan ahead, just in case your college plans don’t turn out as expected. Making a college list will help you explore different school options. College lists also allow you to see which institutions are the best fit for you, both academically and socially.

4. Rushing through the Process and Not Visiting Campuses

To generate a strong college list, it’s crucial that you do research. Don’t rush the process, simply picking colleges whose sports teams you’re a fan of or whose geographic location you find appealing. Instead, you should thoroughly investigate schools that could be a good fit for you. If you have the resources to travel, try to visit and tour as many prospective college campuses as you can, staying overnight with a current student if you have the chance.

Visiting a college campus can help you see what university culture is like, allow you to speak with admissions officers, and determine how you might fit in on campus. You’ll also increase your chances of acceptance by demonstrating your interest in the school and, if you schedule an admissions interview for your visit, by providing admissions officers with a richer understanding of you and your aspirations.

You’re probably going to be attending your chosen college for the next four years, so you want to gather as much information as you can to make the most informed choice possible.

5. Limiting Yourself to Specific Types of Schools

Some students only consider attending certain types of schools and so narrow their college list way too soon. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want, but you should still consider all your choices as you start the college admissions process. You never know which schools could help further your academic career and provide you with the best college experience.

So, start looking into different school options. Consider the size of the campus, the location, the academic environment, the on-campus resources, the extracurricular opportunities, the majors—all the aspects of campus life that interest you. 

You never know what schools might be an amazing fit until you consider all the options available to you. Start listing schools that match your values and goals, then narrow down your list once you’re confident that you’ve surveyed enough schools.

6. Only Listing Local Schools

Not only should your list feature a variety of schools, but the schools you list should also include schools based in different locations. It may be tempting to apply to schools that are close to home, but you’ll limit yourself unnecessarily if you only choose schools based on their location.

But some students aren’t so lucky. Certain majors or programs might not be offered at your local schools, so we highly recommend listing schools in different areas of the country. You might be nervous or afraid at first, because leaving your home is a huge change, but you never know what opportunities await you in a different city or even state.

7. Not Considering Finances

Finally, the cost of your college education will be a huge factor in your decision. Some students gloss over this fact while they are making their college list. You don’t want to make this mistake. College is a pricey investment, and you should make sure that the school you choose is worth the price.
Conversely, you don’t want to get too obsessed with costs. While some schools might seem out of your budget, with the right financial aid package and scholarships, you could end up paying less to attend a more expensive school. Just consider your financial situation as you list your schools, and don’t forget to apply for FAFSA and other academic grants.

Across the board, the college admissions landscape is changing. It’s important that your family create a strategic plan going into this admissions season based on your desired outcomes. Our advisors at HelloCollege are highly trained to identify student goals and create a path to getting in. Your family needs a smart plan! HelloCollege can help.

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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