Table of Contents
1. Your academic prowess
2. Your likes and dislikes
3. Experiences
4. What do you want the college to offer you?
5. Make a first draft college list
6. Categorize chosen schools
7. Balance the risks
8. Ready, Set, Apply!
9. Summary

Take a lot of the guesswork out of your degree by putting together a carefully balanced, well-researched college list before you start the application process. 

Many students create a list that relies on safety picks only or pie-in-the-sky schools that are out of their reach. That translates to problems further down the line. You need to include the programs and schools where you’ll be accepted but where you’ll truly thrive. 

It is possible to reach a happy medium with a mix of schools that are realistic but that include dream schools and we’re going to show you how.

How to create a college list that works for you

Before you start making a list of colleges it will be helpful to look inward and have a good think about yourself and what are your likes and dislikes. Ask yourself what your life goals are and what kind of activities you like doing in your spare time. You need to make a list of things about yourself that will help you form a realistic college list that you’ll thrive at once you are there.

Write down a list with several columns. These should include the following:

Your academic prowess

You need to look at your GPA (grade point average) and your exam scores. This will help you to build an academic profile. Do you have entrance exams? Consider if you need a high GMAT or a GRE score to balance out lower grades as well as seeing if you need an SAT or IELTS if you don’t have them yet look at smart ways to prep for them so you pass with high marks.

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Your likes and dislikes

There’s no point in putting down a school in a cold climate if you love and feel happier living and studying in sunnier weather. Think about countries you have always wanted to visit and explore. Perhaps you dream of studying in the United States or in Italy?

Also write down a list of your preferred extracurricular activities – the sports you like to play, whether you go to church, and all your hobbies.

Students don’t spend all their time on campus studying, they often spend time on campus undertaking their hobbies in various student body clubs and associations and playing sports.

This knowledge will help you build a more realistic college list as you’ll know to look out for your favorite extracurricular activities when you’re looking up schools for your shortlist.


A huge part of studying abroad is soaking up the culture, so if you have an interest in Spanish or French cuisine write that down. Perhaps you have always wanted to see the Mona Lisa and learn more about French culture which could mean that a university in (or near) Paris might be a great fit for you. Do you want to learn another language? If so, which one? Maybe you want to learn Spanish, if so, a school in Spain might warrant a place on your shortlist.

If you apply to study at a school that’s overseas you should tick off items on your life goals list while you’re there. Perhaps you want to study closer to home – if so, make sure you write that down as it will help narrow the search for colleges.

The best tips for studying abroad. Find out how to make the most of your time studying overseas. > Insert best tips for studying abroad article

What do you want the college to offer you?

Decide what you want to take away from your college experience. If you dream of working and living in another country, then studying abroad will also help make your CV stand out further down the line.

Perhaps you have a certain religious affiliation that’s important to you? If so, you might want to attend a school that has that affiliation too.

Maybe your friends have all applied to attend a certain college and you want to go too – but consider if that’s truly aligned with your long-term career goals, or if studying further afield might help your career dreams come true.

Make a first draft college list

This list is just a draft, so you can add to it later, but include the schools you think might be a good fit for you. If you have a high GMAT score you might find that more school options are open to you than you realize. has a useful program finder tool that finds programs and schools based on certain criteria. These can be your GMAT score, perhaps the country or town you wish to study in, or the type of programs you want to complete. For example: If you want to study in France but don’t mind if you’re based in Paris or not then you can opt to search the whole of France for schools and programs, or you can narrow the search to include the type of program you’re looking for as well as criteria such as the GMAT score required.

The GMAT versus GRE: what’s the difference and which one should you be taking? >

Categorize chosen schools

Check if your requirements and your skills and attributes match. This will help you be realistic about which schools might accept you, but you will also find there are some on the list that you have never even considered. Check if these are a match for you.

Balance out your attributes. If your chosen schools all have high GMAT score requirements we can help you with prep courses, so you ace your GMAT and greatly improve your chances of getting into schools on your list. Browse our specialist prep courses. That dream school is within your reach! >

Balance the risks

This stage requires that you look at your list and ensure that you have a realistic list of dream schools, schools you have matched criteria with and schools you know are safe picks. That way you stand a good chance of getting accepted into several schools and you’ll be able to pick.

Ready, Set, Apply!

Applications should never be rushed. Make sure you leave plenty of time for this stage.

You’ll need recommendation letters from former employers or professors, and they’ll need time to compose them. Your CV/ resume should be carefully written and rewritten, so your skills and attributes really stand out.

Your personal essay could take weeks to write and rewrite and you’ll need to set aside up to 12 weeks to study for your entrance exams such as the GMAT, GRE, SAT, and IELTS.


Creating a decent college list will take time and plenty of thought – just like the application process itself. Make sure you do plenty of research and remember that spending time on your college list now will save you time and money later as you’ll be less likely to change your mind halfway through your chosen degree course.

We’re experts at helping students with the admissions cycle here at 700+Club and you can work with one of our team on building your list and on the application process itself. We have a bespoke admissions consulting service that will help you achieve your goals.

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