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My Recipe for College List Building

Updated: May 18, 2022

Happy February! As my seniors await their final college news, I've been busy working with my junior clients on building their college lists. I always find this aspect of the application process nuanced and complex, but also fun because it’s when I really get to know my students.

Since my list-building recipe includes some outside resources, I officially begin by utilizing the excellent tools available to independent college consultants (IECs) like myself. Some resources, such as the surveys produced by highly revered IEC Steven Antonoff, are actually available and free for anyone to use: These surveys ask students about a multitude of topics, including academic and learning preferences, social and extracurricular aspirations, and where they’d like to attend college (what part of the country, proximity to a city, etc). I have students complete a few of the surveys, and then I synthesize the information to begin recommending colleges that I think would be good fits.

Another tool I use is You Science: You Science assesses students’ strengths, preferences, and general personality traits to then recommend some career ideas for them. This is a platform for which I have my own account, so I send students a link to begin their testing. Once the results are in, I discuss them with the students and show them how to use the resources on the site for career (and college/major/program) exploration.

But really, the most valuable tool at my list-building disposal is chatting with my clients. There is no replacement for conversation when it comes to helping them find their best-fit colleges. I like to get at academic and extracurricular preferences, but also social lives, financial fit, and other important factors. I also like to shake things up with fun questions like, “What would your perfect day look like?” or “What would your superpower be?” These conversations are not only critical components to getting to know my students, but they also lay a foundation of trust. And when we move on from list building to essay writing in a couple of months, students need to feel like they can trust me. After all, essays can sometimes get deeply personal.

Once I have all of the survey results and conversation notes collected, I create a preliminary draft list of 12-15 colleges, and then I talk to the student about why each of these schools is included on the list. Next comes the research. I have an account with College Planner Pro, a platform to help IECs keep their clients informed and organized, and since each of my students has her/his own CPP account, I show them how to research the schools I’ve recommended. I also suggest they take virtual tours on the colleges’ websites.

The list may take several iterations from now until the early summer, and I like to wait until test scores and junior year final grades are released before I categorize schools into Reach/Match/Likely. Hopefully, over the summer, they can get out to visit a few of the schools on their list (see my blog post about college visits: Above all, I like this list-building process to be fun and exploratory for my students, and not a huge cause of stress.

If you’d like to chat more about finding colleges to research, or about anything else related to the college admissions process, please reach out to me!

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