Putting the Cart Before the Horse in Creating a College App List

The Dos and Don'ts When Deciding Which Universities You Should Apply To

            I can already hear you asking, “So, Jesse, what the heck do carts and horses have to do with college app lists?”

            Well, in a figurative sense, when a college-bound high school student puts the cart before the horse, they have built a list of schools that they intend on applying to based on certain superficial factors, such as name recognition, national college ranking, where their friends are applying, where their parents want them to go, etc. The student has not taken the time to sit down and earnestly think about what elements of a university experience are necessary to make the experience meaningful to them personally. When students build their college application list in this counterintuitive way, they often find themselves uninspired about the schools they are applying to. Some students even find that the school they ultimately choose to attend is a poor fit for them.

            So, as you embark on your college application journey, my suggestion to you is to spend some time putting the proverbial horse before the cart. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you?
    (Think of all of the things that make you you!)
  • What are you about?
    (What are you passionate about, and what inspires and motivates you? Think of the things that get you out of bed in the morning…The things that really excite you at the core.)
  • Which life experiences have had a profound impact on you?
    (These could be “big” things like a massive accomplishment or the loss of an important loved one, or seemingly “smaller” things like a specific conversation you had with your best friend or even a childhood memory.)
  • What are you looking for in a university that would make it a good fit for you?
    (Think academics, extracurriculars, social involvement, community involvement, values, tuition, culture, geographic location, etc.) 
  • What will a successful and meaningful college experience look like for you?
    (Maybe it’s being around like-minded individuals, forming relationships with inspirational professors, building a network of life-long friends and professional connections, or even personal growth.)

            Once you have reflected on these questions and the picture starts to become clearer, you are now ready to take the next step – identifying the universities that are going to fit your personality and needs. These are the schools that should find their way onto your college application list because they are the schools that fit you and that you have a genuine interest in attending if you are accepted.

            Now, I am not saying that parents or family members, school counselors, friends, and the like should not be a part of contributing to your list of schools. I just believe that this is how the process should begin. These trusted members of your “team” can be consulted and provide their support once you complete these initial steps of the process.

            Over the years, I have personally worked with students who applied this “horse before the cart” approach and ultimately attended schools that truly fit them, providing the ideal setting for them to thrive as individuals. At Gramma’s Jam (www.grammasjam.com), we encourage students to take a deeper dive into this approach and provide important tools, such as a detailed college application spreadsheet, that can be utilized in their process.

            I bet you would have never thought you would have such a good understanding of what it means to “put the horse before the cart” in the college application process, eh? Now that you do, go forth and put together a carefully crafted college application list tailored to the one-and-only you.

            Good luck. I’ll be rooting for you!

Start Jamminā€™ On YourĀ College App Journey Now

Your junior and senior years are busy enough, so get to work on your college apps now! By starting early, you will avoid getting overwhelmed by everything else you have going on. Most importantly, you will be able to devote the time you need to reflect on what you genuinely want out of your college experience and to craft impactful and polished college apps that you are proud of!

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