Concentric Circle or Target Approach to Creating Your Final College List

Your initial list of colleges and universities may contain as many as twenty different selections. Most students find that their list significantly changes as they research and visit the schools.

Your preliminary investigation will primarily occur through exploring each educational institution’s website. We will also provide you with other online research tools that will assist you in profiling each college and understanding some of their criteria for admission. As you begin your search, we will offer some guidelines that will help you think about the important questions that you will want to answer. College visits are another important component in your investigation, which we discuss in a separate section.

We recognize that you have never done this before, but we have. It can be helpful to think about and organize your list in terms of concentric circles.

Outer Circle

The outer circle contains colleges and universities that you would love to attend. They feel right to you, and they have the necessary ingredients or opportunities that will allow you to make the most of your education, to prepare you for your chosen life work, and to grow as a person. Sometimes these schools are mistakenly referred to as ‘safety schools’, when we might better designate them as ‘realistic schools’ for you. By ‘realistic’ we do not mean that they are guarantees, rather we believe that these schools have a track record of accepting students that generally correlate to your academic, standardized text score, and other criteria profile. Your final list should contain two to four options from this circle.

Middle Circle

The middle circle includes colleges and universities that you also love. These schools have a documented history of accepting students whose grades, standardized test scores, or other criteria are in your range or slightly above. While there are no guarantees in this process, we will want to feel reasonably comfortable that you have a ‘likely or good shot’ at gaining admittance to these schools. Your final list may contain two to three choices from this circle.

Center Circle

In the center circle are your ‘dream schools’ or ‘reach school’. In your college quest, as in life, it is important to dream, to raise your expectations, and to take informed risks. These colleges and universities may have a particular program, academic reputation, or some other special quality that inspires you to apply. Generally, these schools have admitted students who have grades, standardized test scores, or other criteria that may be significantly above yours. Or, these institutions may be highly selective, with a large number of applicants, and an extremely low percentage of acceptances. When you finalize your list for application, you may have one to three dream or reach schools.

Final Note

You will probably apply to no more than nine schools. Your search will convince you that there are many educational institutions that are a good match for you. America is blessed to have so many wonderful and diverse colleges and universities. So relax, be confident, enjoy the search, and take ownership of your future. We will be there to assist you in your journey.