College 101

Introduction to Generating the Big List
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

We at Shmoop just love lists. We eat, sleep, and breathe lists. We even take lists with us on romantic weekend getaways to Barbados. (We have to make sure they apply plenty of lotion though. They burn easily.)

To prove it to you, here is our Top 5 list of favorite… lists:

Top 6 Lists

  1. Lindsay’s List of Cute Boys 2013
  2. List of Guys Who Have Written their Names on the Wall of the Men’s Room at the Exit 314 Rest Stop
  3. Preemptive List of the Best Movies of 2038
  4. List of Places Sam will not Eat Green Eggs and Ham
  5. List of James Bond Movies with Questionable Titles
  6. This list (of course)

Now it’s time for you to make a list. Specifically, a master list of colleges that might be lucky enough to have you.

There are almost 4,500 colleges and universities in the United States. That’s too big a list, even for our liking.

 Narrowing that down to a manageable number for completing applications, not to mention paring that list down further to a single school, can be a Herculean task. And even Hercules never went to college. (He was more brawn than brains). 

The challenge is to know how to go about it. Here are some possible approaches:

  • Put on a blindfold, spin around three times, and pin your dreams to one random school. Hope against hope that you don’t wind up being the donkey.
  • Choose schools based on the name only, believing that you need to attend a big-name school to have the future of your dreams. “Wurthingham Refrigerator College” seems like a pretty big name.
  • Faced with the possibility of drowning in options, grab frantically for a lifeline school because a friend goes there, your cool uncle went there, or even because the school won last year’s basketball championship.You’re not a basketball player, but you’re only 18 – you might grow into it.
"Aren't you hot in that getup?"


Shockingly… we don’t recommend any of these strategies.

What we do recommend is wiping that unfathomable number of schools from your mind as quickly as possible. Seriously – Start with a Blank Slate. If it helps, start first thing in the morning, the second you wake up. That’s when our mind is usually a blank slate anyway.

If you think you can learn enough about a large number of schools to choose a great fit, think again. College counselors don’t even do that, and they get paid big bucks* to guide people through this process.

*oversized $1 bills, usually not even legal tender

A better way to think of choosing a college is to focus on you, not on the schools. Hey, awesome… you already spend most of your time focusing on you anyway. You love you. This should be a snap.

1. Think really hard about What You Want and What You Need in a school – everything from academic programs to whether or not they serve vegan hot dogs.

2.  Use all of the characteristics you want to generate a Big List. You’ll need to figure out What the Heck’s Out There and What’s in a Name. You will create a list — using a college search engine — of schools that fit your needs. It’s like a Google specifically for colleges. A “colloogle,” if you will. And we know you will.