Expanding Your College List

If you’re like many students that I know, your college list is populated with schools not far from home and others that you’ve heard about from someone who knows someone who attended there and loved it. If you’ve been a strong student and you’re feeling lucky, perhaps you’re focused on high prestige/high selectivity schools that include Ivy League colleges and others in this tier that reject 90 percent or so of their applicants. Maybe you’ve been influenced by one of the popular best college books, like Colleges That Change Lives, or the Best 377 Colleges.

Whatever your method, it’s very likely that you’ve only scratched the surface of the nearly 2300 bachelor’s degree granting institutions available for your consideration in the U.S. It’s also likely that you’ve missed some of the best bargains to be had, and many of the schools where you could get a great education and be sublimely happy. Such schools have been labeled by some college experts  as “the best schools you’ve never heard of.”

So how do you find these schools? A beginning step is to cull the playing field in a purely objective manner by using the search function available on a few websites like Naviance or the College Board. Since Naviance is only available through the high schools that subscribe, I will use the College Board in the following illustration. Use this URL to directly enter the CB matching feature:


Now proceed to make some choices, which will progressively reduce the number of schools you will be presented with at the end. Don’t be too limiting or too hasty in your choices or you may end up with fewer than you would like. You might also miss a hidden gem if you dismiss colleges that have fewer than 2000 students, or single sex colleges, for example. Experiment with ways of limiting your choices, and only make a clear choice if feel strongly and have good reason. By making certain choices I reduced the playing field from 3959 to 101 as follows:

  • Right up front I chose 4-year colleges; I would suggest that you make this choice unless you are considering attending a community college for the start of your college career. This selection gets us down to 2291 schools; let’s keep going….
  • For location I selected Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southwest, and West–now we’re at 1532 schools.
  • For major, I imagined a student who is absolutely set on athletic training. Only pick majors if you feel 98% sure that this is what you wish to study; otherwise leave the item blank. This got us to 254 schools.
  • I’m also imagining a student who is male and wishes to continue his high school activity of men’s swimming. This leaves us with 153 schools.
  • Finally, I’ve made our student average to above average in his academics, so he checked somewhat selective and less selective to identify schools that accept from 50-75% of applicants. He also adds in his top ACT score of 25. Now we’re at 124 schools–we’re really getting somewhere.
  • As a last step let’s say that our student has a mild learning disability, but wants to make sure that his future college will support him in his learning needs, so under Services he checks the LD box. This brings us out to 101 colleges.

At this point I would print the list and start checking into some of the schools. The CB website makes it easy to click on the name of any of these colleges, at which point you are given a description of the school, a photo, some pertinent quick facts, and their website URL, which you may then click on if you are still interested.

You’ve just added 101 colleges to your prospective school list, but you’re not done yet. What about the cost of these colleges and the likelihood of you receiving financial aid or scholarships? That is the focus of next week’s blog: Financial Aid and Your College Choices. For now, Happy Hunting!


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