High School Students & BS/MD

College Rankings Are NOT the Best Way to Select Schools, so How Do You Build the Perfect School List?

Contrary to popular belief, college rankings are not the best way to select schools. Universities looking to improve their rankings or maintain their position on these lists often transfer emphasis and funding away from the things that impact student outcomes, like teaching, toward other reputation-building factors such as marketing. Believe it or not, teaching excellence is not even considered in rankings, despite the fact that research shows a strong link between high-quality teaching and student success! So, how do you find out what schools are going to be best for you?

Find the Right Stats in Colleges

Curating a meaningful college list is one of the most important things you do in the college application process. The first step is to start researching schools. To research effectively, you need to have a good understanding of yourself, a sense of how the college admission process works, a realization that you will be part of a large applicant pool with other students who are similar to you, a good advisor, realistic aspiration, and open-minded acceptance. If you have curated your list correctly, each school on it should be one you would be happy and proud to attend.

Keep an open mind and look at schools with different attributes: size, location, selectivity, specialties, and campus culture. To find the schools that are most focused on teaching excellence, look at the following metrics: retention and graduation rates, time to degree, and academic performance (i.e. GPA metrics: the recommended GPA for medical school applicants is 3.7). Additionally, spend time on college search websites looking at the available academic support services, counseling and health centers, student activities, and safety statistics.

In researching academics, be sure that the schools on your list have strong programs for your desired major(s). You should pay close attention to opportunities for student and professor interactions, class sizes, areas of research, laboratory technology (if applicable), and available concentrations. Undergraduate colleges that offer experienced advisors or an advising office related to your future professional goals, such as pre-med or pre-health advising, would be good to consider as well as they can help you select the best academic pathway, evaluate your performance and readiness for next steps like, say, medical school, and connect you with additional opportunities.

Explore College Life

While schoolwork will make-up a large part of your college experience, you should also envision what life will be like outside of the classroom. Extracurriculars and social events are an important part of college life as they are an outlet for your interests and help connect you with other students. If you are unsure as to what you want from your college experience outside of academics, you can talk to friends and relatives about your college search. You should also think about at least three interests (especially nonacademic ones, including extracurriculars) that you would want to pursue in college. Once you start figuring out what is important to you, let your support system know and be ready to answer questions that may possibly help limit your search. They may also have some genuine advice or inside information.

Organize Your College List and Create an Action Plan

As you continue researching and visiting college campuses, create a spreadsheet for all the schools you are considering that includes school size, top majors and other programs, admissions requirements and deadlines, and whether the admissions requirements make it a reach, target, or safety school. It’s okay if this starts out as a long list, it will get narrower as the process moves forward and you begin to have a better feel for the right fit.

Ideally, you should have a preliminary list pulled together by February of your junior year of high school so that you are ready for your initial college meeting with your guidance/high school college counselor. Preparing this list early will also enable you to start planning for a few college visits during school breaks. Schedule as many in-person visits as you can; by spending time on campus, you can speak with an admissions officer as well as students, and get a good idea of what life is like there. All of these things will be of enormous help in beginning to determine what appeals in terms of fit and creating a preliminary list.

The ideal list should be made up of at least 10 schools: four target schools (those that you are in the competitive range for), three reach schools (those that are a bit beyond where you are presently performing), and three safety schools (those whose requirements are well within your academic range). If you follow the steps outlined here, those schools will all be an excellent fit for you, making success in college (and beyond) easier to obtain.

Choose the Right College Fit and Set Yourself up for Success

Crafting a college list that aligns with your aspirations is a crucial step in the college application journey. To embark on this process effectively, it’s important to research diligently and consider various factors. Don’t limit yourself to college rankings; instead, focus on the metrics that truly matter, such as retention and graduation rates, time to degree, and academic performance. Additionally, explore campus culture, extracurricular opportunities, and academic support services. By organizing your list and creating an action plan, you’ll pave the way for a rewarding college experience and position yourself for future achievements.

Our team of Physician Advisors, with their deep understanding of the college admissions landscape, can provide valuable guidance through the application process. Their expertise is aimed at securing your spot in your desired college.

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Laura Baldasare

Laura Baldasare, College Advisor at MedSchoolCoach, leverages her empathetic and candid approach to guide high school and college-aged individuals through their academic journey. Specializing in learners with ADHD, ADD, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders, she facilitates numerous acceptances to selective colleges. Through understanding individual behaviors and interests, Laura fosters trust, aids in crafting compelling personal statements, and ensures timely application submissions.

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