How to Build the Perfect College List

College soccer player in classroom
Making a college list requires objective thinking about your family's goals and priorities.

Here’s a sobering statistic: The average high school student receives just 9.5 minutes of attention per year from their guidance counselor. And with almost 500 students assigned to the average school counselor, they’re stretched pretty thin when it comes to general college advising – much less offering student-athletes the specialized advice they need for college soccer recruitment.

While I'm a big proponent of engaging a private recruitment adviser to help families manage the soccer recruiting process, I also know there are intrepid parents who wish to go it alone. Regardless of your approach to college recruiting, I’ve put together some suggestions to help you build the “perfect” college list.


Assessing schools by how difficult they are to get into can be a helpful way to prioritize your college list. Ideally, you should target a few schools that are highly likely to accept you, a few that are in line with your academic and athletic profile, and a few where your chances aren’t particularly good. While it may be tempting to aim for all Ivies, keep in mind that the top 10 schools in the U.S. are considered a stretch for all students – even those with a perfect GPA and SAT/ACT score. Aim high, but your list should also include a handful of schools you’re fairly certain you can get into. After all, your ultimate goal for creating a college list is to go to college. It’s imperative that you give yourself some realistic options to choose from even if you don’t think you want to say yes to them right now.


Deciding whether to apply Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED) or Regular Decision (RD) can be one of the most confusing parts of the college application process. You should be aware that most private schools are under restrictive EA policies, which means you can only apply to one. The same restrictions apply for ED, however, these decisions are binding (with a few exemptions) so you should be sure that’s where you want to go to school. There are no restrictions with RD and, contrary to urban legends, your chances of being admitted are the same for EA/ED and RD cycles.


Finding the right “fit” is an important factor in deciding where to attend college. To determine your best fit, decide what features are most important to you and then do your research to find schools that match those preferences. For student-athletes, there are many factors to consider in addition to the athletic program and I’ve written elsewhere about the benefits of looking beyond the soccer program when selecting a school. Remember that, while prestige may be your top priority, the school you choose will be your child’s home and will affect their everyday life for four years, so it needs to be a good fit.


College tuition is one of the biggest expenses families will face and, in my opinion, such a large financial decision should be made objectively. Although a college education provides many intangible benefits, it’s good practice to weigh the expense against the potential return on investment (ROI).

Formula for calculating the ROI of college tuition

To calculate ROI, simply divide your child’s future earning potential by the net price of four-year tuition and fees, minus expected financial aid and scholarships. You can estimate future earnings by visiting the PayScale or Department of Education sites. College websites usually list the typical tuition and fees for undergraduate students, and many also offer financial aid calculators on their admissions pages. When estimating scholarships, remember to factor in the potential for outside scholarships as well as athletic and/or merit-based awards from the school.

While there are many considerations that go into creating the “perfect” college list, the most valuable piece of advice I can offer is to concentrate on your family’s wants and needs. Don’t worry about what other parents (or your child’s teammates) are doing. Think deeply about the factors that matter most to your family and choose an experience that your child will enjoy.

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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at