Last week the reader was introduced to six guidelines that provide a framework for college list creation. This week, the reader will be given a specific recipe on how to create a college visit list.

Based on conversations with many students over the years, I have gathered that that frequently a specific college visit list was not created. Colleges were selected to visit without much research. To make matters worse, some students would often tag along on a friend’s visit. That visit may help the friend, but it frequently does not help the other student, is often a waste of time, and can confuse the student.

The first step, often taken in sophomore year, is to visit some schools in general. One should visit a “small” school and a “large” school. This information is easily obtained through the College Navigator federal website ( This type of visit will give the student a sense of what size school enables them to feel comfortable. Parents and students should also visit a highly regarded school to see if that is the type of college that will be a school to reach for.

Once you have conducted two or three general visits, then you can create some college criteria. Criteria can be size of school, distance from home, cost, four-year graduation rate, strength of major, SAT/ACT score range, acceptance rate, degree to which the college helps the student find a job, et cetera. The schools that are visited should fit the criteria.

Putting the criteria down on paper in a spreadsheet format is helpful in order to conduct a realistic search in a timely fashion. All of the schools on that list should meet the criteria that you have selected. That said, one or two schools can be a reach school, which has an SAT/ACT range that is slightly above the student’s projected scores, based on PSAT scores.

Three Considerations

Before a list is created, parents and students should come to a mutual understanding as to what criteria are being used. The first consideration is the student’s grade point average (GPA). If a student does not have a 3.0 GPA (a B average), it is very difficult for them to be considered at the top schools regardless of the other factors. If one has not shown the ability to produce that level GPA, then there is a higher risk that the student will either transfer or drop out, as the school may prove to be too difficult.

The second consideration is the standardized test scores. Juniors have PSAT scores available to them. The PSAT scores will give students a window as to what to expect on the real SAT or ACT. If students are not happy with the level of their scores, then PSAT prep for the October PSAT test is recommended.

To help you determine your probable SAT score range, add no more than 100 points onto the PSAT score. For example, if the student scored a 50 in math on the PSAT (equivalent to a 500 on the SAT), then you can include schools that have a math average of 600. It is not realistic to include schools that have a 650 math average. Also investigate what the school’s acceptance rate is. Just because your grades and SAT scores match a college’s norms does not in any way guarantee acceptance.

The third major consideration is extracurricular activities. Colleges want to know how students spend their free time. They especially want to know if any of that time has been used to research their potential major. The activities can be clubs, sports, work, or hobbies. The more that a student is active, the better their chances are at acceptance. Colleges know that busy students have learned a critical college skill: time management.

First List

I recommend that the initial size of the first list include no more than 10 schools that will be researched. The final selection of schools should include only those that can be visited. If a school cannot be visited now, it does not belong on the list. When the colleges on the list are of a similar variety, it enables your final selection process. For example, a list can be liberal arts schools in the Northeast that have approximately 5,000 undergraduate students.

In your list of 10 colleges, there should be no more than two safety schools (probable acceptances) and two reach schools (difficult acceptances); the other six should offer a good chance of acceptance. Remember this is a draft list. Finally, I recommend that only the top six schools on this list be visited: one reach, one safety, and four probable selections.

Tip of the Day: College tours in the fall fill up early, so sign up soon.

Jack Zorski was in business for 23 years and has been in education for 22 years. Please e-mail questions to

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