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Kristin White and Michael White are the Co-Directors of Darien Academic Advisors (DAA), an educational consulting company founded in 2005. DAA provides advisory services to students and families for college, boarding, independent day and MBA school admissions. It also provides a Career Launch service for pre- and early-stage professionals. For more information, visit

Darien Blue (April 2015)
By Kristin White and Michael White

Winter is here and high school sophomores and juniors throughout Fairfield County are building and refining their college lists.  With over 2,700 options available, that can be an intimidating challenge. But by focusing on four simple themes of cost, major, culture, and selectivity, your ride can go from bumpy to smooth.

1). How much do you want to pay?   If the sky is the limit and your parents are willing and able to fund any school, then your options are limitless.  However, if your parents have a limited amount available, you must consider lower cost colleges, along with those which will give you merit awards.  And if you plan to take on debt for college, determine a reasonable amount and stick with it. Consider an Income-Based Repayment loan where payments are capped based on your income after graduation, and the principal can be discharged under situations of duress.

2).What would you like to study?  Liberal arts majors can be found at small colleges and large universities alike.  But if you want a pre-professional major, such as engineering, business, or nursing, you should explore universities with strong programs in these areas.

3). Investigate the campus culture. Would you like to attend a college that is big and vibrant, or would a small and nurturing community be more to your liking?  Do you like a traditional college with football games and Greek life, or a more liberal environment?  Would you be happiest in a rural setting or with a more urban atmosphere? You can get a feel for the campus vibe by visiting, talking with students or admissions representatives, and by reading student publications which can usually be found online.

4). Consider admissions selectivity.  It’s important to have a balanced list including reaches, good match schools, and a few safeties where your grades and testing are well above the mean.  You can use Naviance or the college’s own admissions web page to get the data which will help you determine how the schools should rank on your list.

Creating a college list you’re content with can be a daunting challenge. But by following these simple tips, you can make the process a much more pleasant one.

Tips for Building Your College List