How To Build A WINNING College List

College List 101: Fit Over Name-Brand
Your college list is a VERY important piece of the puzzle. Do not invest in SAT prep and extra lessons, get the score, get the 1's ... then apply to all the wrong schools. In light of recent US college admissions scandals that have resulted in parents facing criminal charges for paying large sum bribes for their children to go to certain highly selective schools, it is clear that we are in an era of education-related panic. Parents and students alike are placing increased value on schools that "sound good" or have a "big name". Highly selective schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford (to name a few) have become the standard of success in the college application process. We know that you want what is best for your child ... but with over 3500 colleges in the US alone what does the "best fit" college for YOU really look like?
Ask yourself this – what is the maximum I am willing to spend on an overseas education, or, as I like to ask, what is the dollar figure, 1 dollar above which you will opt to stay local and attend the university in your hometown.

Once you have this figure – your aim is to of course get as many scholarships and aid as possible, to minimize this number but it is KEY to know the number because it will determine where you apply. For example, if you are Canadian top universities in Canada will cost you less than $10,000 Canadian ... while if you are an EU Citizen you have many options across the EU for less than 10,000 Euros. If you hold US citizenship or a green card, you will be eligible for some Federal funding if your parents make below $40,000USD / year, and if they are residents of a given state you may qualify for in-state tuition.

Budget guides SO much! (HINT: most LARGE scholarships are concentrated in the USA – so pay close attention to the colleges that visit your country and your high school, and the maximum scholarship they award!)

(BE PREPARED TO MAKE TRADE-OFFS!! ... hint, the lower your budget or MAX ability/willingness to spend is the less your preferences REALLY count... I mean, I know that you love the big city, but those schools tend to offer less scholarships so what's more important?)

Location – What locations are you willing to consider? Think about distance from home and the number of flights, weather, and possible opportunities. In what setting will you feel most comfortable?

Location Type – Do you want a college that is in an urban, suburban or rural setting?

Style of Learning – UK universities are very EXAM focused (fail end of year exams and you've failed the entire year my friends) ...

Major – What's your intended major? If you don't know exactly what you want to study, are there subjects that you are learning towards? What do you like to learn? Not sure? The US allows you to declare undecided than explore...

Extracurricular Activities – Are there specific extracurricular activities that are important to you? Do you have a HOOK? Special achievement in something? Those kinda schools will want you and may be willing to offer you top scholarships too!

Athletics – Do you want to be a college athlete and compete competitively for the college? Again, this could be a great HOOK!

Religious Affiliation – Do you want to attend a religious college?

Class and Student Population Size – Do you want to go to a college that is the size of your high school or the size of a city? Do you learn best in small or large classes, or does it not matter?

Other Things You Want or Need – What else counts? For some being close to a sibling or aunty counts. Job placement after college is very important to some. IMMIGRATION options (hellooo Canada!) are super important to some parents and students. Whatever counts for you .. consider as you select colleges!

Aah the eternal question! It's hard to tell, especially for universities in the US, AND especially if you are an international student applying for financial aid. Creating a strong college list is part art, part science, and plenty of gut feeling informed by data, extra curricular impact, personality, budget, citizenship, SAT scores and grades, race/ethnicity etc.

That said, you should have 2-3 REACH Schools this is where their admit rate is below 20%, you need 4-5 Target schools where your scores and GPA are in the range of the mid 50% the college admits, and then 2-3 Foundation schools where your scores are stronger than the student this school typically admits.

If you are an International Student seeking aid you need to understand that there is no such thing as safety for you, and you must aim t apply to schools where you are in the top 25% of students the school typically accepts.

Here's an example of a past AIMer who wanted to study Engineering. He was Jamaican and needed a full scholarship.

He had 5'1s in CAPE (Math plus 3 sciences) and a 1440 SAT super score, Math and Physics subject tests of 730 and 740 respectively.

Can you guess where he got in? Where he didn't ? Why?

If you need help building a college list that is right for you then click HERE to book a session today!

Author: Nicole McLaren Campbell
Nicole is founder of AIM Educational Services (now AIM Online Academy) and the Teen Success Club. Nicole is a college counseling expert and has been helping students for more than 10 years attain their college dreams.

You can find out more about how AIM Online Academy can help YOU here:

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