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The Art of College List Building: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Last week we talked about how to build a balanced list of potential colleges that aim high, provide a safety net, AND will make you happy in the long run. You're probably cruising along as we speak, diligently curating a personalized list of schools that check all the boxes, have amazing campus culture, and let it rain scholarships, right? Hopefully... but here's the thing, even smart, well-informed applicants can get derailed by a few common pitfalls.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes students make when building their school list:

  1. Rankings Obsession: While college rankings might seem like the ultimate guide, they don't tell the whole story. Don't get swept away by prestige alone. Building a college list is about identifying schools where YOU will thrive - academically, socially, and emotionally. Sometimes the best fit for a student might be an Ivy League school, and sometimes it’s not - even if the student has a 1600 SAT and 4.5 GPA. The goal is to find a place you will be happy to call home for 4 years, whether or not that school ranks in the top 10 of the U.S. News and World Report of Best Colleges.

  2. Underestimating Yourself: Looking at the acceptance rates of top-ranked schools can be a little discouraging. And let's be real, at 3%, the chances of getting into Harvard are slim, even with perfect stats. But the truth is that someone gets in, and who knows, it might just be you. Pick at least one school that scares you and go for it! Writing a strong application goes a long way, especially at super competitive schools. Generally speaking, the more selective the school, the more you'll need to showcase your amazing personality and values through your essays and activities list to stand out and get that acceptance letter.

  3. Financial Blindspot: College is a significant investment, both financially and personally. Don't overlook the importance of finding a school that not only matches your academic and personal needs but also fits your budget. Student loans may seem like a distant concern now, but trust me, you'll thank yourself later for being financially savvy.

  4. Cloning Catastrophe: You're not a clone, so why should your college list be? Don't make the mistake of creating a cookie-cutter list based on where your friends are applying or where your parents went to school. Embrace your individuality and carve out your own path – it's your time to shine!

  5. Procrastination Panic: Let's be real – procrastination is the arch-nemesis of productivity. Don't wait until the last minute to start building your college list. The sooner you dive in, the more time you'll have to explore your options and find the perfect fit. Trust me, future you will thank present you for getting a head start!

  6. Ignored Intuition: Your gut instinct is a powerful ally in the college admissions journey. Don't ignore it! If something doesn't feel right about a college or a particular program, listen to that inner voice. Building your college list is about finding a place where you'll thrive, not just survive.

So there you have it... the top 6 college list-building mistakes! By getting a headstart, avoiding these blunders, and listening to your gut you'll be well on your way to a match made in higher ed heaven.

Here's to living your dreams,


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PSS. My mission is to help students dream big and reach higher. If you know someone on their journey to college acceptance who could use timely tips, advice, and encouragement delivered to their inbox, please forward The Pen Your Path newsletter!

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