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Tah-dah! The college list!

Lists! I make grocery lists, agenda checklists, follow-up “to-do” lists. Lots of lists. On index cards, post-its, my iPad, and just plain paper. My seniors now each have a college list – not finalized yet but getting close. These college lists are carefully and thoughtfully crafted after months of discussion and research. And so far, no two college lists are the same.

To stay sane, calm, and focused, everyone starts with the same three rules for developing a balanced college list:

1. Create a list with at least five, but no more than eight colleges.

Why five? Why eight? There is some uncertainly in this process, so the list should be long enough (five) to have choices - but not too long (more than eight) that it becomes too expensive, time-consuming, and unmanageable.

Choices are important because who you are and what you want may very well change from October to April of your senior year. Yet with each application there are application fees; there may also be transcript fees, score report fees, additional writing supplements, teacher recommendations, interviews, portfolios, auditions, and visits.

2. One college on the list should be a lower-cost option, where admission is likely.

Simply put, college is expensive. As with any major purchase, the cost, value, and impact on your family and future must be considered. We have a very strong state university system here in Florida with tuition rates much lower than 48 other states (we’re looking at you Wyoming!). The Florida schools are all sizes and locations, offering a wide variety of majors. Regardless of your financial situation, pick at least one (preferably two) where you are likely to be admitted.

3. Every college on the list should have a convincing reason for being on the list.

No college is perfect, but some colleges are better suited for some students than others. Pretend to market your list – briefly describe why you think each college may be a match for you. If you cannot think of a single reason (“it’s highly ranked” and “it’s far away from my parents” don’t count), take it off your list! I avoid using the term “dream school;” my dreams tend to be hazy and lack specifics, and when picking colleges, details are important! Start with what you know – your interests, your values, your personality – and consider several places where you can continue building who you are.

Creating YOUR list is arguably the most important part of the entire college application process. Take your time. Talk to trusted friends and family. Be honest with yourself. And revel in a list that is uniquely YOU!

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