College Planning

How to Strengthen Your College List

One of the first steps in your college planning process is searching for and exploring colleges. Creating an initial college list gives you a sense of what you’re looking for in a college and encourages you to set goals.

After you build your college list and get closer to applying to college, strengthen your list to include at least 3 reach colleges, 2 match colleges, and 1 safety college. This way you can identify schools that could be a good fit for you, even colleges you may not have considered before. Plus, strengthening your college list is one of the six key actions you can take to earn an entry into monthly chances to win $500 or $40,000 from BigFuture. 

Learn about eligibility and deadlines on the BigFuture Scholarships page


How are reach, match, and safety colleges defined?

Reach, match, and safety are based on how the SAT or ACT® score you enter compares to those of last year’s freshman class.

  • REACH: Your SAT score, ACT score or estimated GPA is lower than the average score range of last year’s first-year class—but don’t let that stop you! Colleges consider a range of factors during the admissions process. 

  • MATCH: Your SAT score, ACT score or estimated GPA is solidly in the same score range as last year’s first-year class. 

  • SAFETY: Your SAT score, ACT score or estimated GPA is higher than the average score range of last year’s first-year class. 

Don’t forget that your college search shouldn’t be limited to your score. Be sure to use the College Search Tool filters. Take type of college, location, campus setting, cost, majors, and learning environment into consideration when deciding where to apply.


Why is it important to have a balanced list?

By having a balanced list, you’re adding colleges you may not have considered before. Research shows additional college applications can increase a student’s chances of enrolling in a four-year college.

The Strengthen Your College List step, with its reach, match, and safety stipulation, encourages a practical approach toward developing a balanced college application portfolio. You should build a list of colleges that reflect your wants and needs, but you should also make sure to choose colleges that can meet those needs and help you succeed. As you narrow your list and decide where you want to apply, be sure to consider, among other things, location, cost, size, and majors offered to see which colleges are a good social, financial, and academic fit for you.

For other frequently asked questions, visit the Strengthen Your College List detail page.