Applying for College? How to Create a Well-Balanced College List 

A road sign with the word Decision pointing to the left against a background of partly cloudy blue sky

The college application landscape can be intimidating for all students, particularly first generation college goers. Even if they are unsure if they will attend college, the first thing a student should do is seek out the help of their school counselor, or find support at a free community based organization with a college access program.  

College access counselors will guide students in determining a good-fit school and career by walking them through the steps of creating a well-balanced college list. 

A well-balanced list focuses on five areas: academic balance, affordability, geographic location, success of the institution and student preferences.  

  1. Academically balanced: Can my student realistically get into this college? 

What to consider: Does the college offer the student’s major, what is the admission rate, what is the GPA requirement, does it require SAT/ACT scores, how big is the institution? 

  1. Financially balanced: Can my student afford to go to this college? The student should be able to attend all of the schools on the list without incurring untenable debt. Through research, students can get a sense of how much need a school generally meets. What to consider: Does this college offer enough financial aid? What is the average student debt? What is the estimated net cost? We generally advise that NY students include a CUNY and or SUNY school for financial balance. 
    Net Price Calculator on each college website 
    College Navigator- 
    College Scorecard- 
    Federal Student Aid Estimator- 
  1. Geographically accessible: Can my student get to this college?  
    Consider commuting time in NYC, cost of travel and number of trips to and from home if out of town, and accessibility of services  
  1. Focused on success: Will my student succeed here?  

What to consider: What are the student retention and graduation rates, are there support services for students who may need it, how diverse is the campus? This information can usually be found on a school’s website. 

  1. Matched to Student Preferences: Will my student like this college? Does this college match my student’s preferences? 

What to consider: Location, size, housing, sports and activities, majors, specialty schools (arts institute, HBCU, all female schools, etc.) 

A list matched to preferences places more importance on Sports, Activities, Majors and whether the school is a specialty school, over location, size and housing preferences. 

After this process, a student has a clear idea of where they want to go and is ready to apply for college and financial aid. Good luck to all applicants!