Researching Your College List
As you do research on your college list, keep these categories in mind:
- Reach: Schools with low acceptance rates and/or with average GPAs and test scores that are higher than yours.
- Target: Schools whose average GPAs and test scores for previously accepted students are similar to your GPA and test scores.
- Likely: Schools with high acceptance rates whose average GPAs and test scores for previously accepted students are similar to or lower than your GPA and test scores.
Make sure your list has colleges that fall in the target and likely categories for you.
Because it is linked to Aspen and can be tailored to your academic achievement level, Naviance is one of your best resources for researching colleges. Its database provides a lot of information about colleges that you likely already know about, and also includes features to help you discover schools that you may not know about and could consider including on your list of colleges to apply to.
For example, if you are interested in majoring in physics in an urban setting in the northeastern part of the U.S., you could input those three criteria into Naviance’s SuperMatch feature. Based on the criteria you input, Naviance creates a list of schools that match your criteria exactly and also includes some that match very closely.
If you have at least one school in your "Colleges I'm Thinking About" list in Naviance, you can use the College Match feature. This feature suggests more schools based on your list.
Another way to research colleges can be found under the Career tab. Click on "Clusters and Pathways," choose a cluster that interests you, and click on "Related Majors" to find colleges that offer these majors.
If you see a school that you are interested in, you could take a look at the Scattergrams feature, which shows the GPAs and test scores of past Jackson-Reed High School applicants and what their application results were for that school. While the admissions landscape changes from year to year, and is especially in flux after the pandemic, the scattergrams can give you a sense of whether a school is a reach, target, or likely for you.
Each college’s website offers a wealth of information. Many of them also feature virtual tours. If you are serious about adding a college to your list, take a look at their website and look for answers to questions such as these:
- Does it offer the major(s) you are interested in? What are the course requirements for that major?
- What are the college's distribution requirements? Distribution requirements are the courses that every student must take regardless of their major.
- How do you apply to it, and what is the deadline?
- What is their current policy on SAT and ACT test scores? Because these policies are currently in flux, each college's website is the most accurate source for this.
- How many years is on-campus housing guaranteed for? While you may not want to live on campus all four years, this is something to be aware of.
- What are the tuition costs and the procedures for applying for financial aid?
As you find out information about different schools, it will be good to gather it all in one place. Download this Excel file, College Application Worksheet Template. This template gives you ideas about things to note during your college research, but of course you can add things that are important to you and remove ones that are not.
Even if you do not consider yourself a "spreadsheet or checklist person," these few months of college application time is when you should give it a try!
Common Data Set
For a deep dive into a particular college, take a look at their “Common Data Set.” (Sometimes this is most easily found by googling “[name of school] Common Data Set.”) This contains data such as the number of students who applied; the number of students accepted; GPAs and test scores for the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles; and diversity statistics. It also includes a chart showing what weight the admissions office gives to application components such as interviews, test scores, essays, and demonstrated interest.
College guides including the Fiske Guide to Colleges are available in the College and Career Center. In its section called "A Guide for Preprofessionals," the Fiske Guide offers lists related to college majors such as "Public Universities Strong in Engineering" and "Small Colleges and Universities Strong in Film/Television." While the internet also offers lists like these, books can offer the opportunity of "serendipitous" discoveries, especially for students who are less sure about what studies they would like to pursue in college. The Fiske Guide also offers an index by price, categorizing schools as "inexpensive" up to "very expensive."