Create your College List

As you are researching colleges, there are important factors to consider and questions to ask yourself in order to find schools that are the right fit for you.

You are identified by many things including your transcript, ACT/SAT scores, co-curricular activities (both in and out of school), learning style (visual, auditory, involved, passive, hands-on, etc.), academic environment (competitive, collaborative), personality (passive, assertive, athletic, leader, follower, joiner, etc.).  Keep all of these factors about you in mind as you are looking for a college that will be a good fit.


Some high school students know what they want to major in at college and some do not. If you think you know what you would like to study, then you can include this in your search. If you do not know what you want to major in, that’s ok. Ask the colleges/universities what programs they offer to students who are unsure of a college major. Remember that “undecided” is the largest major of incoming freshmen on college campuses today.

More things to consider:

  • How selective is the school? 
  • Does your coursework match the school’s requirements for admission?
  • Is your GPA and ACT/SAT score typical of accepted students? 
  • Is the program you are considering test optional?
  • Is the program you are interested in a Direct Admit program (for some schools it may be Nursing, Business, Engineering)? If you aren’t admitted into the program directly, what are your chances of transferring into the program once you are a student at that school?
  • What types of hands-on opportunities are available to you (e.g. internships and research)?
  • Is the school a place that will both challenge and support you?

Calculate your college costs on a four-year basis. Many students take four-and-one-half or five years to graduate; calculate the cost of the extra time. Identify the ways to pay these costs. Examine the college’s track record of providing scholarships, loans and other financial assistance. 

All colleges and universities provide a Net Price Calculator on their websites so students can more accurately determine the cost of attendance.

More things to consider:

  • What is the total cost of attendance including books, fees, travel costs, and lab or technology fees depending upon the academic program?
  • Are you eligible for scholarships?
  • Are there separate applications for these scholarships? 
  • What are the deadlines for scholarship consideration and other financial aid applications?

Geographic Location - Think about how far away you want to be from home.  Even if you think that you want to be far away, it’s always a good idea to add a few schools that are closer to home to your list - just in case. 

More things to consider:

  • Do you want to attend a college in the Chicago area, in Illinois, out of state or out of the country?
  • How do you get home for breaks? 
  • Can you bring a car? Do you need a car?

Size of Campus - Would you like to attend a large, medium or small school?  Be sure to visit each type before narrowing your choice.

Campus Setting - What kind of community do you want the campus situated in: urban, suburban, rural? Again, be sure to visit each type before narrowing your choice. 


A campus’ culture and its student body is an important factor to explore when looking at schools. Think about the people that you will be going to school with for the next four years.

More things to consider:

  • What will living there be like?
  • Do you want to live and learn with people similar to you in background, personality and values or do you want a more diverse population?
  • Do you want a school that has sororities/fraternities, Division I, II, III sports, ethnically/socially/religiously diverse students that share your same interests?
  • Religious Orientation- Is the school affiliated with an organized religion? How much does the academic and social life reflect this?

As you are exploring colleges and building your list, there are many things to consider about yourself and the colleges themselves as you search to find schools that will be the right fit for you.

As students narrow down the list of colleges to which they will apply, it is important to place the schools into categories. Students should be sure to apply to 1-2 schools each, in the “Safety” and “Target” categories. We typically advise students to apply to 6-8 schools total.

reach, target & safety schools
Safety Schools
  • Student meets/exceeds all admission requirements 
  • Student’s ACT Composite/SAT/GPA falls above the reported mid 50%
  • Financially reasonable for family


Target Schools
  • Student meets all admission requirements
  • Student’s ACT Composite/SAT/GPA falls within the reported mid 50%
  • Financially attainable for family


Reach Schools
  • Student may be deficient in some admission requirements

  • Student’s ACT Composite/ SAT/GPA falls below the reported mid 50%

  • May be a financial reach for family

    Please note, all Ivy League and highly selective schools fall into this category for all students


If a student is applying test optional, they can utilize their cumulative GPA to help determine Safety/Target/Reach.