When you think of the things you need to prepare before school starts each fall the list is pretty basic: a backpack, notebooks, pens, pencils (you get the point.) But your senior year is a whole new breed. I like to think of school as a job; you wake up, you get dressed, you drive to this building, you do some work, you go home. Depending on how hard you worked during the day, you may have some things you have to take home here and there, but the majority of the stress is between the hours of 8-3, right? Well, senior year is like having that same full-time job plus a lot of new part-time work you have to take part in at the same time. Now don’t let that scare you. While they may very well be stressful, applying to colleges is ALOT of fun. You’re faced with tons of new opportunities and practically endless options and directions you can go in. If you have been feeling run down by your life, town, circumstances lately, THIS is the time to make a change. With that in mind, the CAP (college application process) is fast-paced and timely. There is no room for procrastination or wasted time.

Now I know that was a lot of information and I bet you’re wondering how the preparation we talked about in the beginning is going to tie to that whole job metaphor. I’m getting there, okay? When you enter the 12th grade, your most important school supply is going to be your short list. If you have never heard of that before, keep reading, this post is for you! If you already are happy with your short list you can keep reading, too, because there’s something in here for you as well.

*Click HERE to download the content in this post as a pretty infographic, if you’re into that.* (34)

You might be asking, what is a short list? That, my friend, is what I’m here to answer for you! Your short list is just that (a short list!) of about 4-6 schools that you are serious about applying to in the fall of your senior year. Your short list should be completed and ready to go the first week in August. That being said, sometimes the perfect school creeps up on you, so it’s totally okay to edit your list as the months’ progress. That’s why it’s important to start out small, you can add or take away a school here and there without much trouble. Once you are happy with your 4-6 schools, now you must research! Set-up accounts with each school and begin your applications if possible. Be mindful of deadlines at this point. Speaking of dates and times, TIME is the most precious thing you have during your senior year! You are about to make a huge leap into adulthood and you don’t want to waste a single second of the short amount of childhood you have left! Embrace your friends! Embrace your school! Embrace living at home!! That being said: it is wasteful of your time and money to apply to schools you wouldn’t be happy attending. If you find yourself with a longer list, you have a couple of options. First, narrow down any schools you will not visit at least once (there are exceptions, of course, travel expenses, international, etc. By all means, if you want to go to a school in Spain and don’t see yourself touring, that’s okay! This whole process is relative to your needs and situation.) This tip is just here to weed out any random schools across the country you found online one day on an Internet Ad that looked cool. Second, sit down and write a paragraph about each school stating why you want to attend. If you can’t seem to muster up the motivation to write a small paragraph about a school, trash it. The place you spend the next few years should be a place you could go on and on about. If you find yourself struggling with a certain school, you probably didn’t want to go there that badly anyway! Plus, this puts you in a great mindset for applications and some schools actually ask this question in essay form so you will be at an advantage!

Now that you know all the ins and outs of the concept of a shortlist, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. What kind of schools should I have on my short list? Getting to know the definitive characteristics of the universities you have in mind is a pivotal part of the narrowing-down process.

There are three categories, or types, of schools. First, the reach school. You should have 1 or 2 reach schools on your list. These are tough universities with higher average test scores and GPA ranking than you fall under. It’s important to include these schools because while they may seem like a long-shot, you may be just the kid they are looking for. You only apply to college once; you will never know until you try!

The second type of school is the attainable school. This is the biggest and most important category by far. An attainable school should be one you see your self-getting into. An attainable school’s reported averages should align with yours. It’s important to apply to 3 of this type of school because it has a higher acceptance rate than the reach.

You should apply to one safety school. This is your back up plan. Your scores should be well above the average reported by the university so you know you have a great chance of acceptance. Although nothing is guaranteed, choose a school you would be happy attending. This will be crucial during the CAP, you don’t want a safety school to know that it is your plan-B!

I hope this was helpful to you; this process can be pretty scary if you go into it blind. If you have any questions about senior year, your short list or college apps in general, feel free to email me at or message me on insta @thehomesickwanderer!


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