KD College Apps #2: Creating Your College List

Disclaimer – we’re not experts. Everything in this series will be from our personal experiences and points of view, so take it with a grain of salt. 

We’re back! One of our biggest worries while applying was whether we had picked the right colleges. When applying, you honestly don’t know which schools will accept you – no matter who you are or how much you’ve accomplished. For that reason, your college list should have a variety of schools.

It’s a good idea to finalize your college list before senior year starts, and try to figure out why you’re applying to each – this means less time worrying about your list and more time working on your application. Don’t be afraid to add/remove colleges, though.

Tip: Make a spreadsheet with information about each college (deadlines, application method, # of recommendations needed, # of supplements, transcript requirements, financial aid requirements, etc.) – it helps to see everything in one place.

On average, people apply to 9 or so schools. However, the most important thing to do is to send the best application you can to each school. So don’t feel like you need to apply to more than you are comfortable with or less than you believe you are capable of. There are three main types:

  • Reach Schools – Think Ivy League and selective colleges. The acceptance rate will be 5 -10%. (You’re only applying to college once, so go for it!)
    • Recommended: 3-4
  • Target Schools – Great schools, acceptance rate will be 10 – 30%.
    • Recommended: 2-3
  • Safety Schools – Schools that you’re absolutely sure you’ll get into. These are usually state schools, with an acceptance rate from 30 – 100%, basically.
    • Recommended: 2 

Tip: Fall in love with your safety and target schools. Do research and become excited about them! It helps with essays and it means you’ll be satisfied wherever you go. We use labels to simplify. Do not think that a “safety” school is bad or not good enough. The schools you get into will be the best places for you and will hold great opportunities regardless of where they fall on your list.

Again, these rates and definitions will vary based on your academic and extracurricular achievements. If you’re not sure about where a school belongs, Google their average SAT scores and GPAs of accepted students to gauge where you fall.

Tip: A lot of Plano ISD students choose UT as their safety school. However, be careful! Just because you have auto admission doesn’t mean you’ll get your major. You could be admitted to UT but be forced to do a major you don’t like if you don’t make it in! For example, Computer Science and Business are extremely competitive majors at UT, and shouldn’t be considered safeties. Talk to current UT students if you’re curious about the competitiveness of your major.

Below, we’ve included our college lists for reference and a short explanation on why we picked the schools we did. For us (and most others), the easiest part of our college lists were the reach schools. We’ve been exposed to their names/brands for years now, but at times still were unsure of why we wanted to go to them. This makes it a lot harder to write the “Why *insert school here*? essays, but we’ll explain later how you can deal with that situation.


  • Yale (Early Action)
  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • Stanford
  • Columbia
  • Georgetown
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • William & Mary
  • George Washington
  • University of Texas 

Kat: I focused pretty heavily on reach colleges while choosing 1-2 targets and safeties that I would’ve been very happy with so that I could spend most of my time on my “reach” applications. I only ended up applying to Yale, Harvard, and UT because I got accepted early to Yale. I stress added University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Tufts, and Williams onto this list the week before Yale decisions came out.

For a long time, Yale was my first choice school. Before applying, I had visited Yale/Harvard/Stanford/Columbia. I knew from the beginning that UT was my safety (that I would’ve been immensely happy at), due to the fact that Texas public high schools automatically get their top 10% of students accepted. Because I want to go into government, I looked for schools that were really good for the International Relations major. That’s how I came up with Georgetown (which is #1 for IR), and George Washington (which is also amazing). I chose William and Mary for a similar reason, and added UNC because it’s a really great value public school with a reasonable acceptance rate.


  • Yale (Early Action)
  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • Duke
  • Stanford*
  • Columbia*
  • University of Chicago*
  • Rice
  • Georgetown (removed)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Emory*
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Texas at Dallas (removed)
  • Baylor*

Daniel: The asterisks indicate schools I added later on. Don’t be afraid to change your list or add schools! Just make sure you can handle the work of completing additional essays. However, most schools have an application fee ranging from $70-$90, so I waited to send out the schools I added later on until I had received my early action decision.

I never had a “dream school” – my decisions were mostly guided by the input of college friends and college visits. After doing some research, I decided to visit Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to determine which I would apply early to. It’s a good idea to pick a wide spectrum of reach schools because it’s hard to pinpoint what each school is looking for. (But don’t just apply to all the Ivy’s – you probably won’t be putting your best into each app at that point.)

Ultimately, you need to do an ample amount of research to figure out which schools fit with your interests and personality. Google is your friend. Use it voraciously. You get better at picking up on what is unique about each school as you go. It’s usually best to start with the school’s own website and then expand on points that pique your interests. Don’t apply to a school unless you would truly want to go there.

Comment with any questions you may have. We’ll answer them to the best of our ability!

With Love,

Kat + Daniel


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