How I Made My College Mega-List

Julia Wezio / Colleges of Distinction »

This post is part of a series. We recommend reading College: To Go or Not to Go? (Part 1) prior to this post!

After a long day of meeting with my guidance counselor, I was ready to sit down and share everything that I had learned for my college search at the dinner table with my family. 

I excitedly pulled out a list of colleges that my counselor and I put together. While I knew I would not be able to apply to every school on the list, holding that paper in my hand made me feel like my college dreams could come true.

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Of course, it took me more than just a meeting to decide where I should begin looking for colleges that I actually wanted to apply to. I knew of a few resources, such as Colleges of Distinction from other seniors at my high school. There was also a college fair in my high school gym where dozens of college representatives set up booths with pamphlets to help us learn more about each college. Since I was interested in marketing, I figured that it would be important to find out which schools offered excellent marketing programs.

To my luck, there were hundreds of impressive marketing programs across the country, but picking the “right” college would be about more than just prestige. I decided to chat with some friends and family who were already in college. One of my best friends attended a college in California, so I picked up the phone to give her a call. Then, to gain more insight, I also called my cousin, who chose to attend a private college in Texas for marketing. I wanted to hear about different experiences to gain a better perspective on what might be the right choice for me. 

There is also one particular resource I utilized the most: my guidance counselor. I went and talked to her about places that accepted students with grades that were similar to mine and was able to create a well-rounded list of reach, target, and safety schools. (Reach schools are schools that are more challenging to get into, Target schools are ones that are directly within your reach, and Safety schools are ones that you have a high chance of being accepted to.) She also helped me learn how to get a transcript of my grades. After our very helpful meeting, I went home and decided to break down the list that we wrote together. This brought me to my next question:

How do you really go about picking a college once you have a long list? There were a few questions I wanted answers to before choosing.

  • How big is the campus?
  • Where is it located?
  • What majors and classes are offered?
  • What is campus like?
  • Where will I live?
  • What are the students like?

Something that helped me significantly while applying to college was to write down each of the above questions on a piece of loose-leaf paper and answer each question to figure out what had been important to me as a future student.

For me, my list looked a bit like this:

  • Big campus
  • Close to Texas (which meant close to family)
  • Great marketing/business program
  • Walkable campus with some parking
  • Apartment and dorm options
  • Lively and involved student life

While everyone’s list looks a bit different, I was eventually able to cut down my list to 15 universities or colleges that met my interests. After that, I began to research application fees and made sure to reach out to the admissions office at each one. It is incredible how much a simple question can help! Most of the colleges that I applied to had $50 application fees, but through fee waivers, I received exemptions from 7 schools. That was an extra $350 for textbooks, tuition, and rent once I got into my dream school a few months later (but we’ll get to that later).