Now that you’ve done your research, and gotten a taste of a wide variety of different colleges, it’s time to finalize your college list. Generally, you’ll want three types of schools on your list: matches, likely, and reaches. You’ll want at least two of each on your list, preferably more than that. So, what are matches, likelys, and reaches? And how do you know them when you see them?

Match Schools

“Match” schools are the college list’s answer to Goldilocks and the Three Bears—they’re just right in terms of how they fit with your record. You’ll have checked up on the statistics of their admitted students, and you’re right in the middle in terms of GPA and test scores. They’re also schools that fit your “niche”—perhaps they specialize in the field you most want to study, or they have a well-known extracurricular program in your favorite activity. Match schools should be schools that are easy to picture yourself attending, and whose statistics suggest it’s not far-fetched you’ll do just that.

Likely Schools

Some people call these “safety” schools, but they’re not a “sure bet” (because nothing is), and aren’t to be brushed aside! Your “likely” schools are those where you think it’s a good bet that you’ll be accepted. These will be schools where you fall on the high end of their admitted applicants GPA and test score statistics. They might also be state schools in your home state, where your application will be given priority over out-of-state students. Even if your likely schools aren’t your first choice, they should be schools that you can see yourself happily attending, rather than schools you’ve simply applied to because you think you’ll get in.

Schools with a rolling admissions program can also make great likely schools—you’ll find out if you’ve been accepted sooner rather than later, and it’ll be a weight off your mind to know you’ve got a solid option for where you’ll be attending.

Reach Schools

This is the “shoot for the moon” category. Generally speaking, your reach school (or schools) would not be impossible for you to get into, but would be a happy surprise. Perhaps they have a very low acceptance rate (for example, many Ivy League schools accept only a single-digit percentage of applicants), or perhaps the average GPA and test scores of admitted students are slightly higher than what you have. Reach schools should be places you would love to go, perhaps have thought of for a long time—otherwise, it’s not worth the bother of taking your shot.

While everyone applying to college has big dreams, and it’s good to aim for them, it’s important to craft your college list with a variety of options, so that on Decision Day, you’ll know you’re going somewhere that will give you a good education and a great college experience!

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