Creating a university list is an important step in the college selection process. Explore academic programs, consider costs, locations, career opportunities, campus culture, and acceptance rates to find the perfect fit. By researching, comparing, and refining your options based on admission requirements such as college acceptance rates and financial aid considerations, you will create a university list that aligns with your aspirations. In this guide, you will learn a comprehensive approach which will help you create the best university list based on your goals and aspirations.

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13 min read

Before You Create a University List: Factors to Consider How to Create Your University List Conclusion FAQs

Before You Create a University List

Creating a university list and choosing the right universities to apply to can be a daunting task. With thousands of universities to choose from, each with its own unique strengths, it can be challenging to know where to start. It takes a lot of research, reasoning, and comparison based on a variety of factors, such as professional goals, academic programs, location, campus culture, university acceptance rates in Canada or the US, extracurricular activities, available scholarships, and so on. Therefore, understanding the best ways to create your own university list is paramount.

You must check out certain factors before including a university in your list. Well, these factors can be tailored to your personal preferences; that is to say, some may be more important than others. Consider the following essential factors:

Factors To Consider When Creating a University List

#1 Acceptance Rate

Acceptance rates shouldn't be an issue for a student with the best qualifications; however, if otherwise, it may be an essential factor you must consider. The easiest colleges to get into will be those with above-average college acceptance rates, which must be considered. It's not always a good strategy to only include highly competitive schools, even the easiest Ivy League school to get into, on your university list. While these schools may offer excellent academic programs and resources, they may also be more difficult to get into and may not be the best fit for all students. Additionally, you may want to include a mix of "safety schools", "schools you are strongly likely to get into", "schools you are less likely to get into", and "reach schools".

  1.  Safety schools are schools where your academic credentials and qualifications exceed the average for admitted students. You're highly likely to be accepted to safety schools.
  2. Schools you are strongly likely to get into or target schools are schools where your academic credentials and qualifications are similar to or slightly above the average for admitted students. You have a good chance of being accepted to these schools. Include about 3 or 4 target schools in your university list.
  3. Schools you are less likely to get into are schools where your academic credentials and qualifications are below the average for admitted students. You may still have a chance of being accepted to these schools, but competition is likely to be more intense.
  4. Reach schools are schools where your academic credentials and qualifications are significantly below the average for admitted students. It's unlikely that you'll be accepted to reach schools, but it's still worth applying if the school is a good fit for your goals and aspirations, and you can make up for a low GPA or strengthen your application in other ways.

Including a blend of these schools in your list can help ensure that you have a range of options to consider, thereby, increasing your chances of finding the best fit for you. Furthermore, it's crucial to know that acceptance rates aren't everything, but they can be informative when choosing where to apply.

#2 GPA and SAT/ACT Scores

GPA and SAT/ACT scores are essential factors that must be considered when trying to gather your university list and this is because they are often part of the admission requirements of most universities. Many universities have a minimum GPA or other standardized test requirements as a standard set to attract academically sound candidates to their institutions. You can check what is a good SAT score at individual universities and colleges based on previously accepted average scores.

However, a low GPA doesn’t necessarily mean you are not an excellent student; there are many students who have unique talents or experiences that are not reflected in their academic records. Maybe you are not a confident test-taker, want to get into college with a low GPA or not sure if you should take the SAT. If so, it is essential to include those schools that accept low GPA scores or put colleges that don’t require the SAT or ACT for their admission in your university list. However, these schools will be more accessible to students which means they may receive a larger volume of applications, making the admissions process more competitive. To stay ahead of the competition, ensure you make your decisions on time and apply to the school, focus on your strengths by including your unique talents and experiences, and adding strong recommendation letters.

Here are our strategies to get into college with a low GPA!

#3 Prerequisites

Before adding a university to your list, you need to consider the prerequisites for your selected course. These prerequisites are requirements a student must fulfill before being considered for admission. If you are missing any prerequisites, research the options available to complete them. For instance, you may need to take additional courses at a community college or through an online program to fulfill the prerequisites. You may also need to retake a course if you did not achieve a high enough grade previously. Be sure to consider the timing of completing any missing prerequisites. Some programs may have a strict deadline for completing all prerequisites before applying, so it's important to plan accordingly. Seeking advice and guidance from a school counselor or college advisor can be helpful in navigating the prerequisites and admission requirements for your chosen programs. They can provide valuable insight and assistance in determining if you meet the prerequisites for each school and can help you identify the best course of action if you are missing any requirements.

#4 Secondary Applications

Some schools may require students to submit supplemental college essays or complete additional applications. Deciding whether you will want to write secondary essays is a factor to consider when selecting your university list. Secondary applications often require additional essays, which can be time-consuming to write and may require significant effort to ensure they are high quality. Additionally, some secondary applications may require additional forms or documents, like the Common App additional information section. Ensure you gather these documents early and budget enough time to submit them before the application deadline. On another note, some universities require an additional application fee for their secondary applications. These fees can be up to several hundred dollars, depending on the school and the program. Ensure to research the application fees for each school and include them into your budget.

#5 Interviews

Before creating your university list, consider whether you are interested in participating in interviews. Some students may feel more comfortable expressing themselves in writing or may not have the time or resources to participate in interviews. Ensure you research each university's interview requirements and consider whether or not you want to participate in interviews as part of your application process. If you decide to participate in interviews, there are a variety of college interview prep help resources available to help you prepare. Many universities offer interview prep sessions or workshops, which can provide valuable tips and guidance on how to present yourself effectively. 

You can also get practice college admissions interview questions and useful tips from educational and professional college admissions consulting services like BeMo. Furthermore, there are some schools that do not require or offer interviews; however, you will need to focus on other aspects of the application process to get accepted.

#6 Academic Programs

Does the university offer the academic program (course) you have in mind? Ensure you consider every module you will be taught in that program and ask yourself whether it aligns with your line of thought, needs, and aspirations. Does it correlate with what you had in mind to learn? Does it help you learn what you need to achieve your dreams? Look for universities that have a strong reputation in your field of study and offer opportunities for research and hands-on learning. You’ll will always find more information about the specific programs on the school website which usually include the course program, course modules, learning opportunities and other important information you need to know.

#7 Cost

Pursuing a degree in a university doesn't come cheap, and this is why considering the cost of each university is essential. Set a budget that you cannot go beyond while considering what you can afford and what you cannot (first without financial aid in mind). Then, you must consider the universities with the best financial aid or scholarships to help you finance your education. Many universities offer financial aid and scholarship opportunities to help students finance their education. Research the financial aid and scholarship options available at each university on your list and consider how they can help you achieve your academic and financial goals.

#8 Location

Where your university is located is as important as the cost. You don't want to go to school where there are no student jobs, internships, or opportunities for industry placements during school and after school. Also, some people prefer to stay closer to their families and friends, and this may be a deciding factor for them while selecting their university list. Other factors, while the location may be an essential factor, are the climate/weather, how exposed the area is (urban vs. rural), expensive housing, the standard of living, and many more.

What is more real than checking out the universities yourself? Many universities offer virtual events such as information sessions, webinars, and virtual tours. Attend these events to learn more about the university and get a sense of the campus culture. So, you don't have to go there physically; you can just attend their virtual events to get a feel of each university. There is also no harm in reaching out to the current students and alumni of the universities to get their perspectives on the university and its programs. They can provide valuable insight into the academic programs, research opportunities, and campus culture.

#9 Career Opportunities

Does the university support you in achieving your career goals? Look for universities that have strong career services departments and alumni networks that can help you make connections in your field. It is crucial you consider universities with the resources to assist you in any way possible, preparing you for the outside world. Many universities offer different programs to help build you into an excellent candidate for the outside world. Some of these programs include leadership boot camps, practical challenges, volunteer roles, career advice, CV build-up, and so on.

#10 Campus Culture

Campus culture essentially describes the social, intellectual, and cultural environment of a university campus. It encompasses the attitudes, values, behaviors, and traditions of the students, faculty, and staff who make up the campus community. A good campus culture is one that fosters inclusivity, diversity, and respect for all members of the community while also encouraging intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and personal growth. A strong campus culture can help create a sense of community and belonging among students and can contribute to a vibrant and fulfilling university experience.

How to Create Your Own University List

Step 1: Identify Your Goals

Your university list should entail a dropdown of the best universities best aligned with your goals, priorities, and aspirations. Take some time to reflect on what you plan to achieve academically, your personal goals, aspirations, interests, and values. A moment of self-reflection without any interference should be the first thing to do while trying to select your university list. Furthermore, consider what you want to achieve through higher education and what type of learning environment will best support your goals. 

A brainstorming or personal self-reflection will act as a guide in selecting universities that align with your needs and aspirations. Self-reflection will help you narrow down the universities in your list and cross out some universities that don’t align with your needs and academic aspirations. Below are some helpful brainstorming question ideas for you to try:

  • What are my interests?
  • What academic program do I want to pursue and why?
  • What are my values?
  • What kind of campus culture am I looking for?
  • Is diversity and inclusion important to me?
  • What type of location do I prefer?
  • What are my preferred learning styles ?

Step 2: Research Prospective Universities

After you have done the background work, which entails identifying your goals and interests, the next step is to start researching the most promising universities. Don't forget these universities must be aligned with your identified goals and this can be ascertained by checking and reading each school’s mission statement. A school mission statement is a statement that defines the purpose and goals of a school which you can find on the school website. It's important to review a school's mission statement when considering whether to apply or attend a particular school. The mission statement can provide insight into the school's educational philosophy and help you determine if the school's values and goals align with your own. In addition, based on personal preference, you can also try to find out whether the school offers industry placement, opportunity for volunteering or community service.

The best places to begin your search are college search engines such as College Board's BigFuture, Peterson's, and Niche. These college search engines can help you filter universities that suit your identified goals. 

Next, you can visit the websites of the universities you found on the college search engines to gather more information about academic programs, faculty, research opportunities, campus culture, and more. In addition, consult university rankings, such as those published by U.S. News & World Report, Times Higher Education, and Q.S. World University Rankings, to get a sense of the universities you have picked. You may want to go to those universities known for excellence in your chosen field.

Working on your college essays? Here are some quick tips:

Step 3: Compare and Contrast Your Options

After researching potential universities that you may want to apply to, you now have a long list of universities. The next thing to do is to compare and contrast the options before you. Determine what you need from the options you are considering. This may include features, benefits, price range, and other important factors. Rank these factors in order of importance to you.

Looks like a hectic task, right? You can make use of Excel spreadsheets or google sheets to compare and contrast the universities using any information you have gathered from different sources, including online sources, virtual tours, physical visits, and so on. You may want to create different categories for schools that are likely to accept you, schools that are competitive but within reach, and schools that are more of a reach. You may also want to create separate categories for schools that excel in specific academic programs or have unique campus cultures. These categories will be useful when ranking your universities based on your priorities. On another note, comparing the pros and cons of each university can also be a good idea. This will help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Furthermore, you will need to analyze the data you have gathered from different sources and consider how each option meets your needs. Look for the strengths and weaknesses of each option and consider how they align with your goals and preferences. Then make an informed decision by ranking the universities based on the information available.

Step 4: Refine Your List and Make Final Decisions

Now, we have your university list ranked in accordance with your goals and priorities. The last step to take is to trim down your list in order to make the final decisions. Sounds like repetition, right? But it will assist in narrowing down your list to, at most, the ten best universities for you. Your university list should include between 8-10 schools.

Look at the admission requirements for each university on your list and determine whether you are likely to be accepted. When evaluating your chances of admission, it's important to consider how you stack up in these areas relative to the university's admissions standards. You can find information on the average GPA, test scores, and other admissions requirements for each university on their website or by contacting their admissions office. If your chances of admission are low, it may be best to eliminate that university from your list and focus on universities where your chances of admission are higher. However, keep in mind that admissions decisions are not always predictable, and there are many factors that can influence the decision-making process. 

You can decide to seek advice from a college counselor, teacher, or mentor to help you narrow down your list. They may have insights or recommendations based on their experience and expertise. Seeking advice from a college counselor, teacher, or mentor can be a valuable way to gain insights and recommendations about your list of universities. By preparing a list of questions, being specific about your goals, listening to their insights and recommendations, asking for clarification if needed, and following up as needed, you can get the most out of these conversations and make informed decisions about your future.

Lastly, you need to also consider researching financial aid and scholarships. Consider the cost of attendance for each university and whether you are eligible for financial aid or scholarships. Eliminate universities that are too expensive or where you are unlikely to receive sufficient financial aid.


Creating your own university list involves identifying your goals, researching, and comparing universities, considering financial factors, and refining your choices. By following this process, you can make informed decisions and increase your chances of finding the right fit for your academic and personal aspirations. Remember, creating your university list is just the beginning of the college application process. Be sure to carefully review each university's application requirements, deadlines, and submission guidelines. Start working on your applications well in advance to give yourself enough time to prepare strong essays, gather recommendation letters, and complete any necessary standardized tests. Good luck with your university search!


1. How important is it to consider a university's campus culture when creating a university list?

 Campus culture is an essential factor to consider when creating a university list. It determines the social, intellectual, and cultural environment you will be a part of during your time at the university. A positive campus culture that promotes inclusivity, diversity, and personal growth can greatly enhance your university experience and contribute to your overall satisfaction.

2. Should I prioritize acceptance rates when selecting universities for my list?

Acceptance rates can be a consideration, but they should not be the sole determining factor. While highly competitive schools may offer excellent academic programs, they may not be the best fit for all students. It's important to consider your qualifications, goals, and preferences when evaluating acceptance rates and focus on universities where you have a reasonable chance of admission.

3. What role does financial aid play in selecting universities for my list?

 Financial aid is a crucial factor to consider when creating a university list. It's important to set a budget and consider the cost of attendance for each university. Researching and identifying universities that offer strong financial aid or scholarships can help you finance your education and make an informed decision about affordability.

4. How can I research prospective universities effectively?

Start by using college search engines to filter universities that align with your goals. Visit the websites of the universities to gather more information about academic programs, faculty, research opportunities, and campus culture. Attend virtual events and reach out to current students and alumni for their perspectives. Additionally, consulting university rankings can give you an idea of their reputation and excellence in your chosen field.

5. Why is it important to compare and contrast options when creating a university list?

 Comparing and contrasting universities allows you to determine which options best meet your needs and preferences. Using tools like spreadsheets or Google Sheets, you can organize and analyze information from different sources. By considering the features, benefits, and price range of each university, you can make an informed decision and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

6. How can I refine my university list and make final decisions?

 After comparing and ranking your university list, consider admission requirements and evaluate your chances of acceptance. Seek advice from a college counselor, teacher, or mentor to gain insights and recommendations. They can help you narrow down your list based on their experience and expertise. Additionally, research financial aid and scholarships to ensure affordability. Trim down your list to the universities where your chances of admission are higher and where you can receive sufficient financial aid.

7. How can a university's mission statement impact my decision-making process?

 A university's mission statement can provide valuable information about the school's values, goals, and educational philosophy. It can help you determine whether the university aligns with your own values and goals, and whether it offers the kind of educational experience you're looking for. A mission statement can also give you an idea of the university's priorities and how it approaches teaching and learning. By considering a university's mission statement as part of your decision-making process, you can ensure that you choose a university that aligns with your needs and aspirations.

8. Are admissions decisions solely based on GPA and test scores?

 Admissions decisions are not solely based on GPA and test scores. While these factors are important, universities also consider other aspects such as extracurricular activities, college essays, college letters of recommendation, and supplemental essays. They aim to evaluate a holistic picture of the applicant and their potential to contribute to the university community. Keep in mind that admissions decisions can be influenced by various factors, and it's important to present a well-rounded application.

9. How many schools should be on my university list?

You should aim to have between 8-10 schools on your university list. Any more than this and it becomes harder to complete the necessary application materials and it can strain your budget. Ideally, you should have a mix of target schools, reach schools and safety schools, with perhaps 3-4 target schools you are aiming for.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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