In this page:


  • Books
  • College search websites
  • College fairs
  • Word of mouth
  • Visits


  • Type of school
  • Possible major
  • Location
  • Size
  • Academics
  • Sports
  • Cost
  • Greek life
  • Individual interests
  • Career guidance

How to make a college list?

With thousands of colleges out there, how in the world does my student choose a handful to apply to?


Books aren’t perfect, but they’re a good starting point when your students needs to just browse to see what’s out there. They give a snapshot of what a particular college is like, with short reviews.

Insider’s Guide to Colleges

The Best 378 Colleges

The Book of Colleges

See Resources: Books for more.

College search websites

  • BigFuture (College Board)
  • College Raptor
  • Cappex
  • ApplyMap
  • Princeton Review
  • Niche
  • US News and World Report
  • College Confidential

See Resources: Websites for more.

College fairs

It’s best if you look at the schools that will be there before you attend; otherwise you’ll wander around aimlessly. Pick out a few that you can read up on and plan to ask a few questions of the representative.

Contact the colleges that your student is interested in to see when they’ll be in your area.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling has a list of fairs.

The Colleges That Change Lives makes several stops in Texas.

Word of mouth 

College Confidential, word of mouth, homeschooling lists

Follow schools of interest  on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.


Even if your student isn’t interested in attending any of the schools located within driving distance, it’s always helpful to visit them. He can learn a lot about the different factors to consider from just a short walk through or a longer official visit. Sometimes the best way to learn about what you want is to learn about what you DON’T want.

See College Visits

As you make your list, consider the following:

Type of school 

From community colleges, to technical colleges, to private universities, to public universities, your student's ideal school may be based on what kind of job your child wants to have and how much he values prestige and selectivity. If you're looking to become a dental assistant, medical technician, mechanic or hairstylist, for example, your student most likely will want to look into technical college, trade schools, or a certification program at a community college.

If your student wants a four-year degree but isn't quite ready to leave home or your finances can't swing full-time college, he could consider the 2+2 program. This means spending two years at the community college to acquire the basic credits and then transferring to a four-year institution to finish out his degree. 

Possible major

Pick schools that offer the major you’re looking for. If your student is unsure about her major, choose a school that offers a large variety, which includes large state schools.


Rural, urban, suburban

Close by or far away—driving distance


A small school offers intimacy and familiarity with professors. A large school offers a wide variety of majors to choose from. Small? Medium? Large?


Undergrad-only schools offer teaching excellence because the focus is on teaching as opposed to research. Research institutions offer ground-breaking discoveries and the possibility of research as an undergraduate.

Pick schools that have majors in the areas your student is interested in. Liberal arts or STEM? Design-your-own major? Does he want grades? 

Your student should go to a place where he’ll succeed academically. Don’t set him up for failure by encouraging him to attend a school that doesn’t match his intellectual needs. Even if your student can get into an Ivy, would he thrive there? If your student loves an intellectual challenge, attending a party school wouldn’t be a good fit. 

Your student should attend a school where he can graduate in a reasonable time, preferably within four years. Keep in mind that some schools offer five-year programs in the major of choice, which could potentially add a huge financial cost.


If your students wants to play in college, does the college have a strong team in that sport? Many students simply want the school camaraderie that comes with big sports.


Colleges are required to post a financial-aid calculator on their websites. You can use that to get a *rough* idea of how much you’d pay, not considering merit aid.

Don’t rule out a private school because of the sticker price. Many private schools will do their best to make sure every student can attend. Some offer merit aid (Ivies do not, as they’re not allowed to) and virtually all offer need-based aid. Some schools are notoriously stingy with merit aid. If a private school likes the applicant enough, they’ll make the cost affordable, sometimes offering a free ride or at least bringing the out-of-pocket cost down to below that of a state school.

Some schools offer a free ride to National Merit Finalists. As just one example, the University of Texas - Dallas offers full tuition + fees + $8,000/year stipend + $2,000 study abroad funds

Greek life

Is your student interested in fraternities or sororities? Some schools have a vibrant Greek life; others have zero Greek life.

Individual interests

What’s important to your student as an individual? Some things to consider:

  • food, 
  • housing, 
  • weather,
  • music/arts, 
  • volunteer opportunities, 
  • study abroad, 
  • activities and clubs,
  • surrounding city life,
  • intramural sports, 
  • support for learning differences, 
  • support for giftedness,
  • support for physical or mental challenges, 
  • campus safety, and
  • others unique to your student.

Career guidance

How much guidance does your student need to find co-ops, internships, pre-professional advising (pre-law, pre-med, etc.), and other post-college options?