Building Your College List: Quality Over Quantity

Building Your College List: Quality Over Quantity

For many students, knowing where to begin when thinking about college applications can be difficult. Everyone—from parents to teachers to your fellow students—may have strong opinions about which colleges you should apply to. While there are certain colleges and universities that many students will consider their “dream school,” the college application process isn’t just about acceptance letters and emails! If all goes as planned, you will be spending at least four years studying at the institution you enroll in. You’ll want to be confident that you will be a happy and successful college student! 

While there may be one school you think you really want to attend, there are nearly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Although only a handful are household names, many schools can offer students the educational experience they seek. Every student is different—from their academic and personal background to their interests and goals—and not every school fits every student. 

While some high school students believe the best course of action is to apply to as many colleges as possible, as this recent article highlights, this approach can be detrimental to students. When building your college list, think quality, not quantity! To ensure that you will gain admission to at least one college that is a strong fit for you, it is important to be honest with yourself about your priorities. Here are some things to consider when building your list of colleges to apply to: 


If you plan to attend college in the United States, you may or may not be aware of the vastly different experiences you would have living and studying in New York City versus the rural Midwest. If possible, visiting most of the colleges and universities you are considering applying to is best. This ensures that you will not only like the campuses of the schools you apply to but also feel comfortable living wherever these colleges are based. Ease of travel both within the town or city the college is located in and proximity to airports will also be essential factors for many students. Here at Zinkerz, because we work with students worldwide, we can advise our college counseling clients on the particulars of applying to colleges outside one’s home country. 


It is important to remember you will likely have unique experiences attending a small college versus a large university. While some students might prioritize the plethora of programs and resources available at large institutions, others might seek the tight-knit community and personalized education smaller colleges can provide. Large universities tend to have primarily large, lecture-style classes. Discussion-based classes and seminars are much more commonplace at small or medium-sized colleges. Consider whether you would feel comfortable being one of many students in large academic departments or classes versus a very active participant in smaller programs and classes. 

Academic Offerings 

Most colleges—even small and medium-sized institutions—offer various academic programs, including majors, minors, and concentrations. A large research university allows students to take classes in almost anything imaginable, while smaller institutions might specialize in specific academic disciplines. If you are undecided about the field of study you want to focus on in college, the opportunity to take courses in many disciplines may be important to you. On the other hand, if you are fairly certain that you aim to major in business, for example, it may be best to focus on colleges known for their business programs. In the second scenario, being able to take classes in a variety of academic departments may be less critical to you. 

Acceptance Rate 

High school students are applying to more colleges than ever – sometimes 20 or more! — acceptance rates at competitive colleges continue to drop. The more applications colleges receive for a limited number of spots, the smaller the percentage of students who get in. For this reason, even if you are a star student, you cannot rely on your credentials to ensure you will get into a college of choice! It is essential to be strategic and ensure that you are applying to a mix of safety schools, perfect fit schools, and reach schools. Here are Zinkerz, our college counselors specialize in ensuring each student’s college list is expertly curated to match their interests and qualifications! 

Graduation Rate 

In 2022, public colleges in the United States had a graduation rate of 62%, while American private nonprofit colleges had a graduation rate of 68%. While many factors influence whether a student completes their college degree, the level of support they receive from their professors and academic advisors and the quality of a college’s student services certainly matter. An institution with a relatively high graduation rate is a positive sign because most students receive the support and resources they need to graduate. On the other hand, a college with a relatively low graduation rate may not provide the same level of support or the same resources.

Student Experience

Of course, the purpose of college is to take classes and eventually get your degree, but there is much more to the experience! Outside of classes, you will sleep, eat, socialize, and participate in extracurricular activities. Visiting a college is an excellent opportunity to get a real-life glimpse into day-to-day student life on campus. Some things to look for when visiting a college: Does the student housing look comfortable? What do students say about their accommodations? What do students say about the food available on campus? Do the students you see walking around campus look happy? 

There are many websites – including Niche and Unigo – where students at almost every American college review their experiences. While colleges do an exceptional job of “selling” students on wanting to attend their school, getting an inside look into daily life at a particular college is essential. Here at Zinkerz, we have worked with students who now attend a variety of competitive colleges; as a result, our college counselors can advise students applying to these schools on what it might be like to attend.

Here are Zinkerz, our top priority will always be the success and happiness of the students we work with! Our college counseling team specializes in helping each student we advise create a college list perfectly tailored to their interests and goals. Set up a consultation with us to learn how our college counselors can help your child succeed throughout college admissions and beyond. 

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