How to Make a College List
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How to Make a College List

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Mentoring
  • Published on 20 Apr 2020

How to create a college list to study abroad?


Step 1: Gather your scores: ACT, SAT1

Step 2: Get your desired college names together, including college ranking. 

Step 3: Get the average score for admission for your preferred course.

Step 4: Match your scores within the parameters of your chosen college.


In the context of overseas education, how do you choose which colleges to attend? A plethora of choices, puzzles of criteria, rankings, scores, programs.. Where do you even begin? We begin with a college list. The first step to applying for admission is choosing where to apply. A list of colleges, schools, institutes that will awaken and instil immense overflowing wisdom within you and set you on the course of success.


RTS is the keyword for that. 


Reach - Target - Safe


Reach: Imagine reaching out for something. It implies two things: one, that you really want it; two, that it is outside your grasp. Reach schools are just that. They are the most aspirational, hardest to get into schools. 

  • Think of the Ivy League colleges, and super-selective non-IVYs like MIT and Stanford. Stanford University has an acceptance rate of about 5% each year. That does not mean it is impossible to go there, but it means that 5% of applicants do get in each year. It also means that although it’s really aspirational, none of us can be realistically confident about certain acceptance there.
  • The other type of Reach schools are the ones that are specific to each applicant. The average scores at UPenn for the class of 2023 (25 percentile, 75 percentile) are SAT 1 1460-1550, ACT 33-35. This means that if you have scored on the lower side of the range, you do have a chance at the college, but it’s certainly aspirational. 


Target: Imagine a target. A bullseye. The schools which fall within the ambit of your score are the ones which will fit into your Target List. Target schools are those where you have a pretty good chance of getting accepted. According to US News rankings, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign falls within the top 30 colleges. The accepted scores for freshman entry program are in the range of (25 percentile, 75 percentile)  1280-1490. This means that if your score falls within the bracket, broadly, it’s a Target school for you. If your score falls towards the bottom range of the aggregate score, say 1200’s, then this would be amongst your Reach schools. A target school puts you in the 40-60% range of acceptance, so like a Reach school you can’t be absolutely sure about admission but there’s a higher likelihood of  you getting through. However, remember that a SAT score is not everything. If your other scores or profile are not top-notch, a high SAT alone will not be able to pull your application through. Target to build a solid profile so that it doesn’t let your SAT scores down!


Safe: Safe schools are those schools where you have more than an 80% chance of acceptance. No matter where the school lies in the overall rankings, it is your score and profile which make it Safe. Something in the 1500’s would mean that applying to University of Washington would be like a walk in the park, that would put UWash in your Safe list. A score of 1400 would put Purdue, Computer Science in your Safe List.


Remember though, that an initial listing of R/T/S based on scores alone is a limiting choice but generally a good starting point. Universities like MIT, Stanford, Princeton would always be Reach schools. A great score can be brought to nought without a good profile, while a sub-par score would not stand in your way if you have a great profile!

How will this list help? 

The short answer? You want to make sure you get accepted somewhere. Right?

Hedge your bets wisely, spread your net far, but intelligently. If you focus on only very selective colleges, for instance, but are unable to get into one for whatever reason, then your entire year might get wasted.

In the event that you get selected by more than one college for a course of your choice, this list helps you gain more perspective. A Reach college would have to be the first choice! Sometimes a higher ranked college, say Yale, offers a course that is not entirely up your lane. That goes into your ‘Discard’ list. A slightly lower ranked college Stevens Institute, offers a course that is your dream. That goes into your Target List.


How many colleges should you have in your list?

The answer varies, but with some planning and aggressive positioning, especially as an international student,  you could have a long list. You should aim to have at least 2 safe schools and 2 Reach schools. Depending upon your interest and focus, you can have 4-8 Target schools. 


The devil is in the details:

Along with the above recommendations, explore the other factors in detail. 

  • Location: Cornell or at Columbia? You might be able to try for the same program at any of the two schools, but the location matters as well. US? Or France? Europe? A main city campus would have its charm and opportunities whereas a campus removed from the city buzz would have its own attraction. Stanford is too far from San Francisco, and there’s no real college town around it but it’s akin to heaven, albeit an intense one. 
  • Cost & Scholarship availability: Amongst the largest concerns, finances, or the lack of, can make or break your case. You need to do the homework before you make a list for RTS.

For a more detailed conversation, reach out to us at

Further Reading

“Will I be able to get an admission into an Ivy League?”

Multidimensionality is the Key to Success

The EXP Mentoring Methodology

The Schema of Big Ideas