3 Most Important College List Factors for Target Schools

Cory Chen
January 18, 2024
College List

Why Does the College List Matter? 

Time. Building your college list takes hours— the more time you spend researching, the less time you’ll have to write your essays, answer supplemental questions, and think about the best responses. If you research the most important college list factors, it minimizes the wasted hours you’ll spend scrolling through college websites looking for something to catch your eye. 

Supplemental College Essays. More than 50% of the top 100 colleges in the United States ask students to respond to this question: Why do you want to attend our college? How would you contribute to the diverse communities here at our university? If you have analyzed the three most important college list factors in the right way, you’d find it very easy to answer this question. (If you need more guidance on writing the supplemental college essay, check out Dewey Smart’s Official College Admissions Guidebook

The three factors help you choose colleges you’ll thrive in. If you go to a school based on its fun-ness, its architecture, or its mascot— you are risking the quality of your academic education. However, if you do the right research and find that a school can further your interests and your future career, you will know how to utilize these resources when you actually get in. If you are new to building your college list, read this article first about how to find good target colleges.

The Three Top Factors for Building Your College List

  1. Faculty
  2. Programs
  3. Coursework

Researching Faculty for Your College List

One of the most important college list factors is faculty, because they are your main source of education. Thus, it’s important that your professors have both relevance and quality. 

Relevance. Does this school have 2 or 3 professors that match your career or research interests? For example, if you’re applying as a psychology major and you want to study consciousness, are there professors in the psychology department who teach a course on consciousness or have published research studies related to that? If you don’t have a specific interest within your major, that’s completely fine! I suggest you begin to think about a few areas within your discipline you might be interested in because it will help you when you start applying for internships or research positions. 

Quality. If this school is not a nationally recognized university or top 50 college on Niche, that’s not a big problem. One way to find out if the school is hiring qualified professors is to check their biographies. Have they published research articles in noteworthy journals such as Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, JSTOR, and Critical Inquiry? Have they won awards or fellowships? Do they have a PhD? Have they published books and held leadership positions? If a professor has some or all of these traits, you can trust that they’ll have the expertise to help you move along your career path. If you’re uncertain about your career path, our DeweySmart college admissions counselors have been there before and can help you through this process!  

Target Programs Instead of Target Schools

An often overlooked but very important college list factor is programs. Programs give depth to your learning and boost your resume. I’ve listed below 4 common types of programs. 

Research. Do you want to be a scientist, physicist, theoretical engineer, mathematician, or humanities scholar? Research programs develop your college resume so that you can get a job after graduation. This is especially important if the job market for your field is dwindling— it becomes increasingly competitive and having research positions on your resume will give you the necessary advantage to get the job you want. 

Teaching. If you want to be a teacher, or just gain expertise in your field, then it is beneficial to find a program that allows you to develop and teach your own course. At UCLA, I’m enrolled in a program where students create their own course with a faculty mentor and teach it during their senior year. Through this program, I have gained insight into the most effective teaching strategies and it has also given me an opportunity to explore a very specific part of the field I’m interested in. 

Internship/Immersive (real world experience). This is one of the best programs a school can have, especially if you’re an engineer or a business student who needs real world experience in order to truly understand how it’s done. When you’re researching a department you might discover programs where the university partners with corporations like National Geographic or Toyota to give students an opportunity to implement their skills in real life projects. These are the types of experience that give value to your college education. We also have a guaranteed internship matching program for high school students here at DeweySmart. 

Leadership. Many schools offer some type of leadership program (most of which are very selective) but are designed to help you make significant impacts in society. These opportunities provide the right challenges that’ll help you grow, face your fears, and maybe even change the world. Here at DeweySmart, we are not just concerned with your college experience, but your success after graduation. Book a college coaching counselor here

Researching Specific Courses

Finally, courses are one of the most important college list factors to explore because they determine what and how course material will be taught. I've listed below 4 signs that show a college has good course design.  

Interdisciplinary. Courses that combine disciplines and are taught by multiple professors

provide deeper perspectives on issues and help you see how the world is interconnected. One of the best courses I ever took was on the neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and literature of the brain. It was taught by 4 different professors, it incorporated effective teaching strategies and it completely changed the way I read and write. 

Innovative Pedagogy. A modern world requires a modern education. It is no longer

sufficient to learn from lectures taught from blackboards. Better universities incorporate collaboration between students, self initiated projects that further your career, guest speakers, and Interactive workshops.  

Challenging. The vast majority of courses should also be on challenging topics. School

is a place where you engage in challenges without the consequences of failing in a real life situation. For example, if you fail your speech because you get nervous— sure it’s embarrassing— but it’s not as bad as failing your presentation in front of a room of CEOs. Don’t look for easy classes in which you’re guaranteed to succeed. Look for courses that will give you the opportunity to grow. 

Interesting. Are their classes even interesting to you? When you read the titles of all the available courses, do they provoke your curiosity, and make you want to learn more? The best type of learning is one in which you are motivated. Too often, I see students who get caught up in the “too lazy, too boring” syndrome. They skip classes, they don’t do their homework, and then they complain about their professors or inadequate resources. These students didn’t choose the right courses, or the right major. If you choose right, you’ll definitely find a college where every course is interesting, unique, and expands your knowledge. 

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