How to Get Started Building a Balanced College List

Learn how to build a balanced college list of safety, target, and reach schools when applying to college.

Deciding where to apply to college is a deeply personal journey. Location, major, class size, and campus life are only some of the seemingly endless factors that play a role. With so many aspects to consider, the biggest hurdle is often not knowing where to start. We can help with that by providing you with a framework to jumpstart your journey in building a balanced college list.

What is a balanced college list?

An important consideration in building your college list is likelihood of acceptance. While it is never certain that you will or will not be accepted to a school, you can follow some basic standards to help gauge your chance of being admitted. These measures are based on the average GPA and test scores of previously admitted students at the school. Those two measures inform the balanced college list framework of safety, target, and reach schools.

To be considered “balanced,” your college list should include a healthy mix of safety, target, and reach schools. Here’s what that framework is about:


your GPA and/or test scores are well above the admitted student average


your GPA and/or test scores are near the admitted student average


your GPA and/or test scores are below the admitted student average

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How many colleges should you apply to?

With over 4,000 universities across the country, getting a grasp on the number of colleges you should apply to is pertinent. We recommend students to use the balanced list framework to help shape your scope by applying to 2-3 safety schools, 2-3 target schools, and 2-3 reach schools. By having around 8-10 colleges on your list, you give yourself a healthy chance of acceptance to safety, target, and reach schools alike.

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