Your Ultimate Guide to College Research

Written by Jimin L. | Posted in Readiness

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We are already halfway through 2022! This means that the summer is here! Summer is the time for you to relax, travel, and have fun, but it is also the time to start your college research! As someone who has recently researched colleges, I wanted to share some of the resources I used to have a balanced college list.

Step 1. The most important thing is…Knowing what YOU want in your college life.

Making a list of what you want in the college you will be attending can help so much when trying to narrow down your list. Some of the questions I have considered are:

  • Location
    • Do you want an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
    • Do you want to go to in-state schools or out-state schools?
  • Size – How big do you want your college to be? (The numbers are the school population I used! However, your idea of the small, medium or big schools might differ, so please feel free to use other ranges.)
    • Small (less than 3K)
    • Medium (3K-20K)
    • Big (more than 20K)
  • Opportunities – What opportunities are you looking for? I personally looked for study abroad and research internship opportunities. This could relate to your academic interest and the career path you would like.
  • Major – What do you want to study? Your college should have an area of study that you want to pursue. If what you want to pursue is more specific and unique, you can look into the majors, minors, or certificates available in the school. Of course, there is always an option for undecided if you are not sure what you want to study! However, you can also always change your major in college so looking for some other majors you are interested in might help!
  • Scholarships – Are you looking for financial aid? There are thousands of scholarships available. Some are based on merit, which means if you have good grades and test scores, and are actively involved in extracurricular interests, you could earn a scholarship. Some are based on your family’s financial needs.  Don’t forget to include this in your research.
  • Academics – Do you have a specific subject you want to focus on? Marine Biology? Technology? Theater Arts?

Step 2. Write down the colleges that you hope to have on your list!

I used several college search resources. Here are the best ones that I found:

    1. Niche – Niche is a great resource because they have done all the research for you. You simply build your profile and they match you with colleges that meet your interests. And, they even offer scholarships that are awarded monthly.
    2. BigFuture – Big futures is also a great resource for college searching. They also offer excellent Career Research.
    3. CollegeVine – Another great resource! what I like about College Vine is that they have a free Live Chat service called Ask and Expert. If you like a particular “Expert” you can hire them as a consultant.

As an international student, I didn’t have much knowledge about the colleges. When I first wrote down my college list, I had 50+ schools on my list and from that, I have narrowed it down to less than 12 schools. It is totally fine to have many schools on your list in the beginning! You will be able to narrow down the questions you answered in Step 1.

I set up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets to keep notes about each of the colleges I am considering. Here is the template that I created for my college research:

College/University Ranking: Safety Target Reach State College Size % Acceptance Rate Avg Admitted SAT Avg Admittted GPA Academic Programs Opportunities as an Undergrad Avg Class Size Application Portal Application Type 

reach target safety

Step 3. Ranking them as Safety, Target, and Reach

Colleges can be categorized into safety, target, and reach schools.


Safety schools are schools where you are above the 50% average student’s statistics such as GPA, standardized test scores, and more.

Target schools are schools where you are in the 50% average of students’ statistics such as GPA, standardized test scores, and more.

Reach schools are schools where you are lower than 50% average of students’ statistics such as GPA, standardized test scores, and more.

However, these categories are really just guidelines. There is no guarantee that you will gain admission to 100% of your safety and target schools, or that you won’t gain admission to your reach schools. A lot of American universities are reviewing holistically, which means that your scores are not everything! Colleges look at your extracurricular activities such as sports, volunteering, scouting, artistic talent, work, etc., so be sure to get involved in activities outside of school.

Since I had 50+ universities on my list, I used Google Sheets to sort them by these categories. This also helped me to see how many reach, target, and safety schools I have on this list and which I should try to narrow down more.

Graduation cap idonStep 4. Narrowing down your college list

Many students have about 7 -15 colleges on their list and sometimes more. I would recommend having a number of colleges that you can manage because you will be writing essays and submitting your application to all of them. It would be best to have a number of colleges that you can put a good amount of effort in. Regardless of the number of colleges you are applying to, it is important to have a balanced list of all reach, target, and safety schools. For example, if you are applying to 9 schools, it would be balanced to have about 3 reach schools, 4 target schools, and 2 safety schools.

After narrowing it down with the questions you answered in Step 1, you still might have quite a lot of colleges on the list. For me, I had it narrowed down from 50+ to about 30 colleges, but there were still many schools.

It is now the time to do your actual research! Even when you are doing research, it is important to have your idea of college in mind. I left the colleges on my list that I felt excited about while I was searching for them.

guidance counselor

Step 5. Talk to your college advisor or guidance counselor!

At Whitmore School, where I attend, I have a personal Guidance Counselor who works with me each year to develop and implement my Personal Graduation Plan. I also have a College Advisor who helps me with the research and application process.  Talking to your counselors at your school will help you understand how to stay on track to graduate and what you can do to improve your college list. Talking with my counselors helped me so much and I was able to find resources that I did not think of before. I would definitely recommend talking with your counselors as you are preparing for college applications.

Whitmore School, accredited by Cognia, (formerly AdvancED), offers four Diploma Programs for students wishing to enroll full-time to earn their high school diploma. Additionally, students looking to get back on track to graduate on time can enroll in individual courses. Students enroll and begin anytime, work at their own pace, and may take up to 12 months to complete their courses. Click here to read more about taking individual courses at Whitmore School.

Jimin L.

Written by: Jimin L., Student Blogger


June 24, 2022 in

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