Step 4: Finalize Your List

  • At this point you have already researched the colleges that interest you. Now it is time to make your final list. Most students apply to two or more colleges; some as many as 12 or 15.

    Consider the following balance of schools:

    • 2-3 safety/likely schools (schools where you have a higher likelihood of getting admitted)
    • 2-3 target schools (schools where you have a better chance of getting admitted).
    • 2 reach schools (schools that you are unlikely to get into because of competitive admission standards)

    Tip #1:

    Show demonstrated interest in all schools to which you are applying. The graphic shows examples of demonstrated interest.   You can also print this Demonstrated Interest Check List to help keep track of your demonstrated interest for each school.

    Showing demonstrated interest in your safety schools is just as important as it is for your target and reach schools. 

    Steps in Finalizing Your College Wish List

    Step 1: Research Admission Rates and Statistics

    • Use College Board and the Common Data Set for the schools you are interested in (perform a Google search for "Common Data Set (insert name of college)" to determine the GPA and test scores of the most recently admitted students.
    • Compare the test scores. Most admission decisions are holistic and will include a review of your GPA, transcripts, essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and honors, but academics, grades and test scores are often of primary importance.
    • Try to have a balance of schools you are applying to with a combination of:
      • Safety/Likely Schools: Schools where your GPA and test scores are in the top 25% of recently admitted students.
      • Target Schools: Schools where your GPA and test scores are solidly (25-75%) within the average scores of recently admitted students.
      • Reach Schools: Schools where your GPA and test scores are below the average scores of recently admitted students. Note that due to low admission rates, highly selective colleges should always be considered reach schools.

    Step 2: Assess Your Likelihood of Admissions

    College Board Website feature: BigFuture Academic Tracker “Are you on track to get in?”

    Are you on track to meet a college’s application requirements, or do you need to adjust your plan? How do you compare to students who got in and enrolled at colleges you’re interested in?

    Use the Academic Tracker tool to find out. Here’s how:

    • Look up any college on BigFuture. You can search for a college by name using the search box at the top of this page or find colleges that match your wants and needs in College Search.
    • Click the "See if you’re on track" link that appears at the top of any college’s profile, or use the "Go to Academic Tracker" button on the right side of the profile.
    • Use the Am I On Track? and How Do I Stack Up? tabs to see charts that let you compare your academic stats to the college’s requirements and to the stats of students who got in and enrolled at the college.
    • Enter your own info and the charts are instantly personalized so you can compare:
      • High school classes you’ve taken or plan to take
      • Tests you’ve taken or plan to take
      • Your grades
      • Your SAT and ACT scores
      • Your class rank

    Save your information to use Academic Tracker with other colleges. Just create an account — it’s free and lets you do other things, like save a list of your favorite colleges.