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How to Make a College List: A Beginner’s Guide


Are you a high school student preparing to apply for college? Making a college list is an essential step in the college application process. However, it can be quite difficult with thousands of colleges to choose from, and information scattered all over the place. However, in this blog post we will walk you through the process of creating a well-balanced college list that includes reach, target, and safety schools. We'll explore the factors that impact your chances of acceptance and help you find the colleges that are the best fit for your academic, social, and financial needs. Let's dive in!


Understanding Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

Before we start talking about building your college list, let's clarify the terms reach, target, and safety schools. These words are used a lot when talking about college admissions, and reflect your personal likelihood of admission, not the overall acceptance rate of the institutions.


Reach Schools

  • Reach schools are the institutions where your chances of acceptance are lower, typically less than 25%. These colleges might be highly competitive colleges that have general acceptance rates below 10% and are challenging to get into for even the most exceptional students. If your academic credentials are below the averages of accepted students, other schools might also fall into the reach category.

Target Schools

  • Target schools offer a moderate chance of acceptance, usually between 25% and 75%. Within this category, hard targets (25-50% chance) and regular targets (50-75% chance) exist. Comparing your SAT/ACT scores to the middle 50% range of accepted students can help identify target schools. Though admission is not guaranteed, you should feel a lot more confident about your chances.

  • These should comprise the majority of your college list.

Safety Schools

  • Safety schools have higher acceptance rates, typically above 75%. These are colleges where you have a strong chance of acceptance, and your test scores may be above the SAT/ACT range of the school in question. While they offer more of a sense of security, safety schools should still align with your academic and personal preferences.


Factors Impacting Your Chances

Now that you understand the different types of colleges, let's explore the factors that colleges consider when evaluating your application. Grades and standardized test scores play a significant role in the admissions process, while extracurricular activities, essays, recommendation letters, and interviews also come into play. In some cases, colleges may consider financial need, intended major, or ethnicity as additional factors. Building a well-rounded profile that showcases your achievements, passions, and potential is key to standing out to college admissions committees.


Elements of a Balanced College List

First, try to build a general college list with as many as 30 schools. After that, use factors like financial aid, institution rankings, location, and school size to slowly narrow it down. The ideal college list should include 8 to 12 schools. Aim for at least two reach schools, four target schools, and two safety schools. This balance allows you to challenge yourself while ensuring you have a good chance of acceptance. But how can you find colleges that match your preferences and academic goals?


Use The Pond to Help

If you aren’t sure where to start, The Pond’s “Find a College” feature can allow you to easily find colleges that are right for you. You can receive personalized college recommendations based on your chances of acceptance, intended major, and "college fit." This feature helps you discover colleges that align with your academic and career aspirations. You can also use the detail pages to find data on topics such as admissions and academics data as well as financial aid and campus life.


If you find colleges that look like a good fit, you can make your college list also right on the site.


Making a college list is an exciting and crucial step toward your future. By understanding the differences between reach, target, and safety schools and considering the factors that impact your chances, you can create a well-balanced college list that aligns with your aspirations and preferences. Utilizing The Pond's Find a College and College Detail Pages, you can confidently explore colleges that match your academic goals and set yourself up for a successful college application journey. Remember to focus on building a list of colleges where you'll thrive academically, socially, and personally. Best of luck on your college journey!

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