It’s easy to hop online and search for the best schools out there. There’s just one thing wrong with every list that you end up scrolling through: who decided these are the top schools? At the end of the day, every person has an opinion, and these opinions vary based on a person’s experiences and preferences.

Rather than taking someone else’s opinion for fact, you decide to search for the best colleges or universities based on their rankings. There’s just one problem with all the lists you’re scrolling through now: even if the school holds the highest rank, it doesn’t mean that it is the right school for you.

Your best option is to develop your own list of “top colleges for you.” This means spending some time researching schools and finding out what works for you – can you think of any better way to get ready for the real world of studying?

Don’t stress – putting together this list will be eye-opening and fun. Here’s what you’ve got to do:

The College List: Meet Yourself

The best way to go about this is to, that’s right, reacquaint yourself with yourself. It seems a little confusing, but it really isn’t. All you have to do is be honest with yourself when you’re analyzing your preferences – try to keep your family’s or your friend’s opinions out of mind.

Now to move on to the part that counts, ask yourself these questions:

Where do you want to study?

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This is a vague question that you need to break down a little more. Think about places in the world where you want to study, like England, France or Ukraine. Now that you have that list written, consider the pros and cons of the weather, the culture, the language, the possible opportunities, and, most importantly, your comfort.

Once you have this written down, along with the positive and negative aspects of studying in that country, think about the setting. Would you want to study in an urban area, a suburban area, or a rural area?

What do you want to study?

This is a very common question that you really need to think about – what majors are you considering? In the locations you’ve chosen, what schools offer this major?  

What extracurricular activities are you interested in?

Now that you’ve worked out the location and what colleges offer the major you want to study, you need to think about your hobbies. Studying abroad is fun and exciting, but sometimes you need a little reminder of home. What hobbies do you have now that you feel your college needs to offer you?

What sports would interest you?

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If you’re the type of person who wants to become a college athlete, then you’ll need to consider if the schools on your list have competitive sports teams, and if they offer the sport you want to participate in.  

Is the student population important to you?

University student body sizes range, so what would you be comfortable with? Do you want to study at a university that has a student population of a high school, a city, or somewhere in between? Do you want to be surrounded by 2,000 students or 40,000?

Is there anything else you can think of that is important to you?

Universities from all around the world offer different things that appeal to the students they have. Do you need to have a fitness center on campus? Maybe, you need a career center. Perhaps you need a student community that helps you meet like-minded individuals? Really think about what you need and see if the universities you have selected meet those needs.

Don’t rush this process. Make sure you know and understand your preferences. Give yourself a week or two to consider this list. You might find that you change your mind more than once.

The College List: Be Realistic

Before you jump right in and write up your initial list, remind yourself to be realistic. You are creating a list of colleges that are based on your needs, so this means taking into account a couple of things:

What are your grades like?

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You can have as many schools on your list as you like, but you do need to be honest with yourself: will your grades get you accepted?

Do you have the skills the school is looking for?

Is the school all about sports? Is the school all about academics? Is the school all about art? Generally, what is the school promoting and investing in? You need to know what the school is looking for to decide if it is a place you will feel comfortable at for the next few years.

What can you afford?

It is very easy to apply to a school, but do you have the funding for the tuition fees? You don’t want to apply to a school and get accepted, just to find out you can’t afford to study there.

Are you using the right tools to help you refine your list?

It makes sense that you might get confused trying to figure out all these things, but it doesn’t have to be. The SchoolApply website has all the tools you need to help you find the schools that suit your needs. You can start your search for free whenever you want.

The College List: The Finalists

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You’ve taken the time to get know yourself and know exactly what you’re looking for in a school. Now you can dig deeper into your research. You might have 10, 20, or even 30 schools on your initial list – and that’s fine because now it’s time to refine that list.

What do the experts say?

Take the time to speak to your current school’s counselor and even your friends. Have a conversation with them about the universities you’ve selected. By doing this, you will be able to decide if you’re entirely comfortable with the schools you have selected.

What does the research say?

You have your list and you have done your initial research. It is now time for you to bring that list down to 8 to 10 schools you feel are worth applying to. Go through the universities’ websites, follow their social media pages and read reviews. You will need some time to make sure you’re happy with what you are learning about the institute, so take your time. Just remember to take notes on the things you like and dislike.

Sign up to receive newsletters and more information from each of the colleges on your list. This will give you a better understanding of how the school interacts with its students. If you can, talk to the current students or alumni and ask them about their time at the school.

Studying abroad is a dream that many students have, and it is life changing. However, you need to make sure you are ticking off all the right boxes for you before taking your first steps into the unknown. If you don’t know where to start, head over to SchoolApply to begin your search or get some help from our expert academic advisors.

About the Writer: When she's not busy running, training or enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee, Amy Saraireh can be found editing to fill a blank page with the things she's learned or experienced.