How to Build Your College List

Many parents thinking back to their own college search might remember applying to only one or maybe three colleges. Most US high school seniors these days apply to 4-10. With the rise of social media and the viral nature of acceptance videos, plenty of students see their peers applying to upwards of 20 different colleges. Add to that the complexity of globally mobile teens often wanting to consider colleges all over the world, and you have a recipe for stress if you don’t plan ahead.



Why go to College?


Before you think about where your student should look for college, it’s important to think about why they want to go to college. Are they interested in a career that requires specialized training or advanced degrees? Do they still need to explore their academic and professional interests? Is your student a hands-on learner, or do they love a good theoretical discussion? Would they like to grow more independent, or are they already pretty self-sufficient? Once your student has identified their ‘why,’ you can move onto the ‘where.’


Where Should I go to College?


International and globally mobile students often have a much wider range of ‘where’ possibilities than students who still live in their country of origin. A student who has grown up in another country might want to go back to their home country to reconnect with that culture, or they might be motivated to explore a new part of the world. If your student is interested in applying to colleges in a country that you don’t have much experience with, thorough research early on is vital to make sure they meet the minimum academic requirements. Many UK and EU universities, for example, require students with a US High School Diploma to have a certain number of AP test scores, or a minimum GPA in combination with a minimum SAT or ACT score. These requirements can vary by country, university, and even by major.


Paying for College


Once you and your teen have decided which countries they want to apply to, it’s time to talk to them about the annual budget for their studies. Determine which tuition rate your family qualifies for in the desired country. Outside the US, scholarships are generally reserved for students with financial need and who are coming from low-income countries. Look up the housing costs in the countries and cities your student is interested in, and check how readily available housing is. In the EU, many campuses are non-residential and in some cities there are serious housing shortages. As a result, housing can be low quality and expensive. Check costs for health care, commuting, and talk about how often your student would want to come home during the school year. Only after you have researched all the possible expenses can you set a realistic budget. For US colleges, fill out a few net price calculators to get a feel for how much need based aid your student might receive at different colleges.


Talk to your teen about the process of setting a budget! Tell them how much you have saved, how much you can afford to pay from your annual income, and if you expect them to contribute themselves (this could be in the form of student loans or a summer job). Once the budget is set, it’s time for the fun part! The actual college search!


Going outside your comfort zone


Throughout the search process, be sure to keep the motivations and values (your student’s why) at the front of your mind. Encourage them to push their boundaries and look at schools just outside their comfort zone. Visit a variety of colleges in your area. For US based families, we often recommend hitting at a large public university in your area, a regional public college, a small liberal arts college, and a polytechnic for students interested in STEM subjects. Make sure to include colleges with a variety of acceptance rates. If possible, visit while students are on campus to get a feel for the vibe of the student body. Take notes of each visit, and be sure to let your teen lead this process and prioritize THEIR opinion over your own.


Finding the Best Fit


Armed with the pros and cons from your visits, you and your student can narrow down what type of college would fit them best. Remember to ignore the rankings! Ask people you meet where they went to college for ideas, or look up where people your student admires went to undergrad. For undergraduate focused colleges, look up if they have any partnerships with larger universities for graduate degrees. Check for cross-registration opportunities. You will start to notice trends and patterns in which schools your student likes.


How Many Schools to Apply To


The goal is to narrow down the final list to a balanced 6-8 universities. 1-2 low likelihood colleges, where acceptance rates are low and/or your student falls below the middle 50% of accepted applicants. 3-4 medium likelihood schools, where your student is in the middle 50% of accepted applicants, and 2-3 high likelihood schools where your student exceeds the middle 50% of accepted applicants. If the Net Price Calculators indicate a price that is above your intended budget, it will be important to focus more heavily on high likelihood colleges where your student stands a better chance at merit based scholarships!


If you would like even more guidance while building your college list, schedule a free consultation with us!


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