Ideally, most counselors recommend that students apply to five to eight colleges. To prepare for this, you should help your student begin to compile their college list at the beginning of junior year in high school, and then finalize that list the summer before senior year. Most schools begin to accept applications in August, and it may be easier for your student to start writing their essays and sending out applications before they head back to school.

So how can you help your child create a college list that helps ensure they’ll get into a school that they love? Here are some important guidelines.

Identify Priorities


Have your child make a list of the things that are most important to them when considering a school. Maybe they want to stay within a short drive from home, prefer the social scene at a large university, or are looking for a school that is known for excelling in a specific program.

Additionally, be sure that your child is aware of all the options available to them after high school. A four-year college is not for everyone. They may want to consider 2-year community colleges, trade school programs, military pathways, or even apprenticeships/internships that lead straight to work. Talk to them about what appeals to them most and why.

Do Research

Once your child has a feel for what’s important to them in a school, it’s time for them to start doing research. They should talk to their high school counselor, parents, older siblings and friends, etc. to learn about schooling options, and go online and explore schools that meet their priorities. From there, it’s smart to arrange some campus visits, where your child can get a much better sense of the school, its academic offerings, the social environment (clubs, sports, activities), and more. Most schools now offer virtual tours as well. It’s also important to consider each school’s financial aid offerings.

Sort the List

When your student has a list of solid contenders of schools they think they’d be happy with, sort those schools into three categories: Safeties (schools you can afford and there’s a good chance of acceptance), Matches (schools where your student’s SAT/ACT scores fall within the average range and are a good match), and Reaches (schools that will be more of a challenge to get into to, but not impossible). Have your student apply to one or two safeties, two to four good matches, and one or two reaches. This gives them a balanced list and a better shot at finding their ideal school.

Ultimately, remember when applying to schools – quality is more important than quantity. Be sure after your child has selected which schools to apply to, that they take their time filling out their applications and writing their essays. Hopefully, soon they will be deciding which offer to accept and embarking upon an exciting future.

This post is the third in a series, entitled: Parents’ Guide to Graduation and Beyond. We’ve designed this blog series to help parents navigate the challenges their children will face as they pursue educational and training opportunities beyond high school and enter the workforce. Please check back here for additional installments.

The Compass Rose Foundation’s mission is to govern, manage, and oversee educational institutions while developing partnerships in the workplace and community that foster innovative educational programs and employment opportunities. For more information, visit our website or contact us.