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How to make your college list

Smiling graduates of Pacific University


Before you apply to college, you need to make a list of colleges that interest you and meet your needs.

Reflect on your preferences and needs

There are over 4,000 colleges in the United States. To find colleges that might be a good fit for you, consider the general, academic, social, and financial characteristics that you want or need.

  • General: Type of college, location, distance from home, size, etc.
  • Academic: Type of degree, majors, online v. in-person, etc.
  • Social: Housing options, student clubs, support services, student body, etc.
  • Financial: Cost, availability of financial aid and part-time jobs, etc.

Explore college options online

Search college databases using filters based on the needs and preferences you identified. Start at College Scorecard or Big Future.

Make a list of colleges that might be a good fit

Use our template for Making Your College List to help you keep track. Add more attributes for each category based on the preferences and needs you identified. Highlight or star the items most important to you.

Start with at least 5–10 colleges on your list

Consider a variety of different options: community colleges or career and trade schools and four-year colleges or universities, colleges in Oregon, and colleges out-of-state.

Write down key facts and what you like and dislike about each college.

Find out more information

Learn more about each option on your list. Go to each college’s website and sign up to receive e-mails and an information packet. You can also:

  • follow college accounts on social media,
  • take an in-person or virtual campus tour
  • attend an info session
  • talk to students, staff, and alumni of a school

Refine your list

Add or take off colleges as you do more research. Your goals, interests, and preferences might change. That’s okay! Be flexible and open to different options.

Aim for a final list of 4–6 colleges to apply to. They should all be ones you would want to attend.

Have a balanced list of options, including a backup plan. Include more and less selective options. Also include ones you know you can afford and ones you think you may be able to with financial aid.

After you are done building your college list, follow the other steps to apply to college!

Make a copy of our Google Docs template to start your college list.