How to Strategize Your B-List of Colleges


If you applied Early Decision (ED) and you didn't get the news you wanted, you may be looking for solutions. Hopefully, you have already made a list of backup colleges to apply to, but if not, there is no better time than now to create a second choice, or "B-list" of colleges where you should consider applying.

"If students apply Early Decision to a college that's their clear first choice, it's wise for them to have a 'backup' balanced list of several colleges, including some to which they are quite likely to be admitted. If they are denied their ED choice, they can simply move on to applying to the remaining schools on their list," says Eric Endlich, PhD, founder of Top College Consultants.

"We encourage students to submit all their applications before they hear from the Early Decision college; or if they want to save the money on submitting, have them all ready to go in advance of their decision," says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, cofounder and director of One-Stop College Counseling in Marlboro, N.J. "The last thing we would want would be for a student, who is denied ED from their 'dream school' to be facing a two-week time crunch, rushing to complete applications while still reeling from their denial."

The ED2 Round May Be for You

Weingarten says that in advance of hearing from their ED school of choice, many of her students have already selected an ED2 option.

"We will typically meet with any student who wasn't accepted into their ED school to make sure that their ED2 choice still works for them. As the process evolves, sometimes students change what they are looking for in their college experience," explains Weingarten. "In addition, we encourage all students to submit EA applications, so that along with their ED decision, they have answers from other colleges too. That way, if their ED doesn't work out, they hopefully still have some EA acceptance that can help ease their disappointment. And if they have those acceptances, then they may not need to create another list of colleges."

If you still have to create a list of more colleges to apply to, it is important to include several factors when you are creating any college application list, including B-college lists.

"Students should build a college list based on multiple factors that are important to students and their parents, including intended major, location, size, cost (which includes probability of financial aid), support services for learning differences, diversity, school spirit, Greek life, athletics, career services and statistics such as four-year graduation rates," Endlich says. "I generally try to downplay prestige, ranking or selectivity when creating a list, though of course for some families these factors matter a great deal. If balanced list that meets the student's criteria is created, then it's a simple matter of applying to more schools on the list after being denied at the first-choice college."

Cast A Wide Net

It is important to consider all types of colleges on your B-list — not the most elite institutions, but other institutions that may be considered not quite as selective. Also, investigate options that may be more financially beneficial, such as a community college with a seamless transfer program to a well-known state university.

"Parents of a certain age may recall the ad campaign from the 1970s for 'Designer Imposter' fragrances," says Carolyn Kilgus, founder of Cast-A-Net College Admissions Consulting in Carmel, N.Y. "If you couldn't afford a designer perfume you could go to your local drug store and buy an affordable knock off scent. Similarly, I encourage students to consider the most important characteristics of their 'A List' colleges and find financially realistic options. Look beyond name brands and do some soul searching as to what you are really looking for in a college. I love Steve Antonoff's The College Finder; students can find colleges that fit them for all sorts of reasons."

Remember that the entire process still applies — you will need to send your transcripts, obtain and send recommendation letters, figure out if there are school-specific essays or optional materials to send, and of course, get it done by the next deadline. Enlist the help of your school counselor if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you have any free time, you may even want to visit colleges that may not be too far from your home over winter break.