How to Build a College List (Part 2: Match Schools)

Andy Wang
Andy Wang

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Match schools are the “meat” that make up any applicant’s college admissions list. To the applicant, the schools in this group are ones where they have a good shot at get in. But what exactly constitutes this quality? College admissions have become increasingly muddled, and the criteria has become increasingly gray. So before an applicant starts putting down “match” schools on his or her list, we should consider a few points.

Test Scores:

How did the applicant do on standardized tests in comparison to other students who have previously gone to the school? In general, an applicant should fall right in the middle quartile range for his or her scores. There are myriad challenges to comparison; for example the many different grading scales used by schools worldwide for their classes. In essence, these tests are the closest college admission offices can reach to a uniform data set with which to compare applicants against each other. Regardless of where an applicant is from, tests like the SAT/ACT are always graded on a single scale. Therefore, when looking through thousands upon thousands of applicants, this score can give admission officers a chance to efficiently filter out qualified applicants.

High School GPA:

Even with college admissions becoming increasingly difficult to analyze, an applicant’s GPA always carries a significant amount of weight. A key thing about GPA: when comparing oneself to others, make sure to use your high school peers as a benchmark of comparison for GPA (and not the university’s acceptance average). When comparing how well they did in school, admission offices judge an applicant’s school performance against your peers. So you are competing against the people in your class who are also applying—not against all the applicants applying. For most schools, this information is not too hard to find on platforms such as Naviance or simple school rankings.

Extracurricular Activities:

We can guess that the majority of applicants who apply to an applicant’s match schools will have similar statistics. So then, what differentiates each applicant from the next in college admissions? It is what do they outside of class. Whether it be school sports or community involvement, extracurriculars can be the “it” factor that makes or breaks the admission decision. At the end of the day, numbers can only tell so much about an applicant but stories such as being varsity team captain or volunteering at local food banks are something that will make an applicant stand out above his or her peers.


No applicant should ever expect to get into all their match schools. That said, these schools are definitely institutions to remain optimistic about. Still, just like safety schools, applicants need to make sure that they classified the school correctly. Verify that they’re qualified on all three fronts, with GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars.

This means doing the proper research and making sure those three categories are up to date so that college admissions may just be a tad easier to decipher. But remember, you don’t have to do it alone! Empowerly is completely equipped to walk you through this. Let us help you ace your college list.

Questions? Let us know!