What is a College Shortlist?

As you embark on the college application process, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the multitude of application requirements and the sheer volume of colleges you could apply to. A college shortlist is a list of approximately six to 10 colleges that will help you target your search and streamline the application process. Creating a college shortlist helps you organize your list of potential schools, encourages you to narrow down your choices, and prompts you to identify schools to further communicate with.

Eager to find ways to focus your college search? Keep reading to learn more about college shortlists.

A college shortlist can aid you in organizing your university search

A college shortlist is a key way to conserve your resources during the application process. At this point in time, you likely have other important responsibilities in your life—academic, extracurricular, and social—that you must prioritize in addition to college application tasks. Making a shortlist will help you focus your energy on a smaller list of schools, instead of stretching yourself too thin trying to tackle a longer list. Additionally, creating a shortlist by choosing schools that fit your needs, desires, and academic background will allow you to submit the most complete applications and will give you a higher chance of acceptance to a school you’re excited to attend.

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A college shortlist prompts you to narrow down your choices

While creating your college shortlist, identify the factors that are important to you in a potential school. When researching schools, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you hope to get out of your college experience and to be realistic with these criteria. Look into various aspects of the schools, including:

  • If you already have a major or academic area you’d like to pursue, research the school’s degree program in that field. Look into the department’s website, including professors’ biographies, classes offered for the current semester, and course requirements for the major. Are there classes that you’re interested in, or professors’ work whose interests align with yours? Make a note of this when creating your college shortlist.

  • Note school rankings when creating this list, specifically in areas that interest you most. Consider the average test scores and GPA of an admitted student, for example, to see if they generally match yours.

  • It’s important to research the cost of attending each school, as well as what scholarships and financial aid are available to students.  

  • The size and location of the school can greatly influence your college experience. Do you prefer small, medium, or large campuses? The size of the college could affect the resources you have access to, as well as the individual attention you may be able to receive. Would you prefer to live in a city, suburb, or rural area? How far away will you be from home?

  • Consider your individual priorities and goals in terms of resources and campus life. Are there other aspects of campus life that are important to you, such as attending a religiously-affiliated school or participating in Greek life?

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A college shortlist encourages you to visit and communicate with the schools on your list

If you’re able to, visit the schools on your list during the semester, preferably on a weekday so you can sit in on a class or two. Campus visits can show you exactly what the school is all about and either confirm or eliminate its place on your list. A tour will help you envision what it would be like to attend the school, and put you into contact with current students or faculty who can give you more specific information not found on the school’s website. You’ll also be able to better learn what the school’s priorities are, and if these line up with your ideal college experience. If you’re not able to visit, check out a virtual tour online—which many schools have—and see if you can get in touch with a current student or alumnus/alumna for a formal or informal interview to answer any questions you may have.

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Your family members, teachers, and academic counselors will all be insightful resources while creating your college shortlist. Be honest with yourself when writing this list about what you hope to get out of a prospective college, as well as purposeful when adding schools to your list.


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