• Explore Your Options
  • College Search Strategies

Starting Your College List

There are over 2,000 four-year U.S. colleges. No wonder finding the right ones can feel overwhelming. Here's how to get going.

Doing an effective college search will help you trade your "getting-in" anxiety for a growing sense of excitement about your upcoming college life. In fact, just looking for colleges will teach you a great deal about what you really want.

Choose a Starting Point for Your First College Search

It's best not to blindly look for colleges without some idea of what you are looking for. Here are three easy ways to start your search.

  1. Search based on college features. If you have a few priority college requirements in mind, you can search for colleges that meet these requirements. How to Choose Your Top College Priorities can help you sort out the college features most important to you.
  2. Search based on what you want to study. Finding an academic fit should be every student's highest priority. Alternatively, if you're clueless about what to study, search for colleges with liberal arts and sciences programs. They offer curriculum designed to help you choose a major.
  3. Search based on college location. Want a school within a certain number of miles from home? Is there a city or region you would love to experience? Search for a variety of colleges located where you would like to live during your college years.

The most effective way to search for colleges is to use an online search tool with a wide variety of college features to choose from, such as College Match.

Learn More About the Colleges You Find

Once you have a list of six to eight colleges you like, dive in and find out more about them. Research them online, visit their websites, take their virtual tours, read their brochures, and look them up in college guidebooks. If you are still interested, visit their campuses. If you can't visit, experience some campuses nearby to help you visualize yourself in college.

As You Search, Learn More About What You Want in a College

As you research each college, ask yourself how well this college "fits" you.

  • Will I be able to accomplish my educational goals in this college?
  • Will I experience the level of challenge appropriate for me?
  • Will I have the learning experiences that suit me?
  • Will I have access to the social experiences I like?
  • Will I be able to participate in activities that seem interesting?
  • Do I feel excited about this college? Why? Or why not?

No college will be perfect, but some will feel quite promising. Make a note of what college features feel particularly right.

Your College List Is a Work in Progress

There is no law that says you have to apply to all the colleges you find at first. In fact, you shouldn't. Searching for colleges is a vital step in college planning because it helps you learn what you truly want (and don't want) in a college. Add and remove colleges from your list as you find out more about what you want. Start factoring in net price and chances of admission into your choices. Odds are, your final list will look very different from your first.

What's Next?

Use College Match to find colleges based on your top requirements.

As you find colleges, enter your GPA and test scores into College Chances so you can see your odds of getting in.

Add your college list to the Admissions Tracker so you see who else is applying and what it took to get in last year.