If you’re like me, you enjoy breaking down any given project into a series of manageable chunks. And a project as daunting as creating the perfect college list can be overwhelming, but fortunately the College Dream Builder method to this madness is quite manageable if you simply follow the steps outlined below.

Step One: Visits

“I’m going to wait to visit any campuses until I know where I’m planning to apply.” I’ve heard this statement on more than one occasion. While it’s great in theory, there are holes in the logic of it. Think of it this way: how do you know what you want if you haven’t seen any of your options? So many students come to me and say things like “Well, my older brother went to this school so that’s where I’ll end up, too.” Or, “My friends had bad experiences at these colleges so I, too, have to avoid them.” Or the real kicker, “I’ve seen the movies and know what a true college experience should look like.” Just because someone else did things a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way, too! Get out there and see for yourself what different colleges are all about—big schools, small schools, public schools, private schools, urban schools, rural schools…the list goes on. It’s only when you see these things with your own eyes that you can determine what’s best for YOU.

Step Two: Determining Your Criteria

Once you’ve seen different types of campuses and have started noticing your likes and dislikes, it’ll be easy for you to answer questions such as: “How big of a campus are you looking for?” “Do you prefer a school in a big city, or would a college town feel be a better fit for you?” “Is staying close to home important, or do you have the travel bug?” “Are activities like sports, Greek life, religious communities, study abroad programs, etc. things you want in your college experience?” Only you (and your parents) can answer these questions for you, so it’s important to think on these things early into the process.

Step Three: Conversation with College Dream Builder

Those questions I posed in step two? Those are the types of questions I’ll ask you when we have our first phone call. I’ll be looking to gather information on what your hopes are for your college experience so that I can do the grunt work for you. It’s what you share with me in that criteria phone call that will guide me as I compile my recommendations. Something critical to keep in mind: it’s okay if you don’t have an answer to everything. (It’s rare that a sophomore or junior does!) In most cases, we cast a wide net early and narrow things down as we go. But if you do have any dealbreakers, it is helpful to know those from the start.

Step Four: Waiting

Some may argue that this is one of the harder steps in the process, but give me some time then to go out, search high and low, and put together an initial list of possibilities for you. Enjoy not having any homework from me during this waiting period, as step five is…

Step Five: Research and Diligent Note-taking

I ALWAYS tell my students that the first college list you get from me certainly won’t be the last. In fact, if you fell in love with every school that I recommended, we’d be looking at a final list of way too many options and you cannot (or should not) apply to each one. But what IS important is that you give each school a fair chance before deciding if it fits the bill. You must be thorough in your research and critical of each option, not dismissing any schools too early without gathering all of the facts. Fortunately for you, I’ll set you up with a wealth of resources and explain how to carefully learn everything there is to know about each college—both good and bad—so that we can make a well-informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you to apply.

Step Six: Regroup with College Dream Builder

After you’ve finished fully researching the list of recommendations using the tools provided, we will meet again to discuss your pros and cons for each school. I will be listening closely for your likes and dislikes so that I can go back to the drawing board and come up with a new set of recommendations for you. If you dislike nine out of ten schools on my first list, that’s fine! But it will be helpful for me to know why you dislike said option so that I can take a better approach in round two.

Steps Seven, Eight, and Nine: Repeat Steps Four, Five, and Six

It’s called a process for a reason. No perfect college list ever came to be overnight. It takes time, energy, and a commitment from you to carefully consider each option. Don’t rule a school out simply because you haven’t heard of it or thought of it as a possibility before. The best college for you might be a hidden gem that you’ll discover along the way, but this can only happen if you’re open to the process!

Finally, at the end of step nine (or step twelve or fifteen if you are one of the many students who need several rounds of this process), you will hopefully have created your perfect final, balanced college list with plenty of great options that you’re excited about.

Are you up to the task?

Molly Monet – Director of Student Services

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