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4 Tips to Build a University List

Updated: May 30, 2023

When I first became a college counselor, the one thing that intimidated me most was the number of universities and colleges in the United States alone. How was I going to ensure that my students got the best advice on where they should be applying?

Over a decade later, I still feel like I am learning about different colleges and universities every year. As my practice has grown and my experiences deepened, I have expanded my knowledge to non-U.S. university list building as well. For students and families coming to this process for the first time (or first the first time in a long time), I have put together four tips for building a university list.

#1 Consider the ranking.

Before we move on, please read that again carefully. Consider the rankings. However, please leave your mind open to the idea that these rankings are not always a true reflection of a university’s greatness. More importantly, they might not be a reflection of a university’s greatness for you. So, consider them, and use what you learn from them as one of many data points that will drive your list creation.

Common ranking platforms students use: US News, QS TOP UNIVERSITIES, Time Higher Education

#2 Take time to reflect.

At Blue Admission, we ask students to reflect… a lot. We rarely take your first answer to a question as the only answer to the question. While that can be annoying, our goal is to ask our students to dig deeper and really know themselves. What is essential for you in the university that you choose?

A fun exercise to get you thinking about this topic is to write a short paragraph or two where you are imagining yourself at the perfect university on a perfect day. What is happening? What kind of conversations are you having? With whom?

#3 Go BIG.

When you create your first university list, don’t worry too much about how many names appear in version 1.0. Your list will get smaller. You will have to continue to research, self-reflect, visit some campuses, and consider your likelihood of admission. Each of these activities will shorten your list.

Remember: Building a university list is a process that occurs over time. Be patient.

#4 Use trusted resources.

I have been at this advising thing for a long time, and I can tell you that not all resources are created equal. Here are some of my favorite resources that other counselors use all the time as well!

Fiske Guide to Colleges

College That Change Lives

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