By Bushra and Amara Mir, Ambassadors of Co Lab’s Quality Education Hub

Applying to university, especially in the US, can sometimes seem like a monumental task. However, at the quality education hub, we believe information about the whole process should be made accessible and available for everyone. 

We’ll be starting an “Applying to College 101″ series, including to-do lists, possible webinars, helpful articles, book recommendations, and steps for before, during, and after the college application process. We will also include specialized information for international applicants. The information will be a compilation and synthesis of resources online, including experienced students, college counselors, and admissions officers. Catch up through the Teens Dream Co Lab Instagram and through our blog!

Here’s the first installment!  

First, we highly encourage anyone in the process to do additional research and apply where they feel comfortable. These points are not strict guidelines to adhere to, but ideas to help students navigate the process.


  • There are many types of universities that prioritize different values and long-term goals. Make sure to evaluate what your goals are and know that it’s okay to apply to multiple of these categories if you’re unsure about what you would like to do:
    • 2-year (e.g. community college or an associates degree) vs. 4-year universities (bachelors or another specialized degree)
    • large research institutions (provides larger student population, focus on research) vs. Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) (provides greater undergraduate support, smaller student population)
    • Or vocational, army, and technical schools for your interests
  • You can also consider size, undergraduate support level, campus setting and culture (rural vs. suburban vs. urban), diversity, and other extra priorities (e.g. housing, greek life/party culture, sports, clubs)
    • Note: this would be more important in picking which university you would like to attend, but this can make sure that you would be happy attending whichever university you get admitted to


  • Consider if weather/environment/part of the country you would be in is important for you
    • Safety/crime-level of the surrounding area

Price (loans, no debt, financial aid, etc.)

  • Some schools are need-blind (your financial needs to attend the school are not considered in your application) and some are need-aware (your demonstrated financial needs are considered in your application) 
    • Note: most universities are need-blind for US citizens or legal residents but are need-aware for international students 
  • Out-of-state (more often more expensive) vs. in-state price (more often cheaper)
    • Public universities tend to be cheaper and private universities tend to be more expensive
  • Consider if you want to take out student loans, or if not, apply to universities that can provide merit scholarships or meet full demonstrated need if you’re admitted

Academic thresholds (25-75th percentiles of test scores/GPA) 

  • These are not restrictions, but possible indications of what scores the students who choose to attend have achieved
  • Try to be between the 25th and the 75th percentile in GPA and/or test scores for the universities you apply to—these are the score ranges that show up when you google “___ university/college [sat/act/gpa] scores”

Availability (and strength) of programs that you want

  • Focus on STEM vs. liberal education – which one do you want?

Good range of schools that you like

  • Based on admitted student academic thresholds, make a list of at least…
    • 1 safety school(s) (schools where you are above the 75th percentile)
    • 2 target/match schools (schools where you are within the 25th-75th percentile and have a similar profile with other admitted students) 
    • Possibly reach schools (schools with selective admission rates and/or schools where you are below the 25th percentile for) 
      • especially relevant during COVID as admissions for universities became more competitive
  • Make sure to find safety schools you would genuinely want to attend, as the college admissions process can be unpredictable

Rankings can be a good starting point but they are not the end-all-be-all—rankings tend to measure graduate research output and other factors, not the quality of undergraduate education, so they are very skewed

How to find more universities you like

Follow our Instagram and keep up with the blog for upcoming posts!  Our next blog in this series will be on the application process!