3 Mistakes When You Make Your College List

Michael Gao
2 min readJul 3, 2020


Columbia University pre-coronavirus

I’m a junior at Columbia and I’ve been helping students with admissions for the past two years. My students are finishing their college list by mid-July. It’s more difficult than you might think. A few mistakes I’ve seen and made myself:

  1. Just picking Ivies — First, ivies aren’t all they are cracked out to be. Lots of other posts on this topic, and I see the irony of an ivy kid saying that. Second, and more importantly, you probably won’t get into your T20 reach school. You need safety and target schools and you need schools that you are actually comfortable going with. Don’t just search the lowest acceptance rate schools. These target schools are your default. If all goes according to plan, these are the schools you will be going to. Make sure you will be happy at them.
  2. Picking out of reputation or just for academics — You won’t just be studying at these schools; you will be living at these schools. Are you going to be happy in the middle of nowhere? Are you going to be happy in the city? Don’t just say you don’t care because you do care. Maybe not about the location of the city, but surely you have some preference about what the culture of the school is. Think through what you want. I think one exercise that AdmissionsMom does on a yearly basis on the subreddit ApplyingtoCollege is the Make Your Own College challenge. Absolutely love that prompt because when you create a fictional dream college, you also have to think about your preferences about a college.
  3. Picking because parents — Don’t do this. You are going to school, not them. This is the time to make your own decisions. The co-host of my podcast on college admissions — Don Gonzalez — is an admin at a Title 1, low-income school where I also went to HS. So many students stay close to home because their parents don’t want them to go far. I get wanting to listen to your parents, but if you want to go far, you should go far away. Period.

We talk a lot more about the specific factors to consider when applying to a school and questions you should ask yourself on this week’s episode of the Admissions Uncovered podcast. Check it out.

And if you’d like individual help building your college list, please fill out the form for a free consultation here.