Forming the Ultimate College List

This post is a companion article to another I’ve written on the topic of college admissions for the environmentally-themed application. The first step in the college process is, of course, choosing where to apply.

Beginning your late-sophomore year and definitely by your junior year, you should definitely have a working college list. There are many components you’ll want to consider while forming this list. To name a few:

Type of College/University

What kind of school do you want? What’s your ideal size?

Liberal Arts Colleges will be smaller, consequently creating a smaller community vibe across campus. Universities will be larger, with communities more within dorms and residential colleges rather than the entirety of campus.


Does proximity to home matter to you? What kind of location- rural vs. suburban vs. urban- is preferable?

Suburban and Rural Schools can be more campus community oriented. Access to cars, whether your own or friend’s, plays a role in getting off-campus for other forms of entertainment. Urban schools are either within or on the outskirts of a bustling metropolis, which means more things to do on the weekends, but also means you’ll probably need to expand your spending allowance.

Depending on your school’s calendar, there may be a handful of small breaks, 4-5 days long, and your commute home may or may not be worth it, depending how long. Do you want to be able to go back home on a spur of the moment decision or save your trips home exclusively for the holidays?

Strength of Departments

What are your academic goals?

You do not need to know what you want to study when you’re applying to colleges or even when you get to college, so do not let others tell you otherwise. However, it’s always helpful to have a sense of your interests, academically and perhaps extracurricularly. Do you want your college to have a strong sustainability component? Emphasize on writing across curriculum?


Which schools to apply to? How many “Reach” vs. “Fairly Confident” vs. “Highly Likely” Schools?

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a balance of these three types of schools. My high school graduating class received a lot of disappointing college decisions because they strayed too far on applying to “reach schools” and a handful of “highly likely schools”, without enough or any “fairly confident schools.” Making sure you apply to all three types of schools ensures that when it comes down to decision time, you’ll most likely have more options rather than just your last, back-up choice. The advice of college counselors is generally to include at least 3-4 “fairly confident” (or “target”) schools with at least 2-3 “highly likely” (or “safety”) schools included. You’ll want an independent opinion, from someone like your college counselor, to verify that the schools on your list are appropriate.

Eana is an alumna of Sustainable Summer and a current undergraduate at Colby College.