trying to convince myself I have a good college list

I am an international student who can’t afford college without financial aid. I finalized my list recently, and thought it was pretty good (all good options, great aid, etc), but started getting nervous because most of them aren’t top-20 colleges. Anyone else having trouble being completely satisfied with their list? I know rankings aren’t important at all, but some narrow-minded bit in my mind is holding me back.

If you have some schools that are early action and get accepted, you can always change your list later and try a few moonshots. It is way more important that you get accepted somewhere that is affordable than what is on a list.

A good fit for you – with a great program for your major and financially affordable – is far more important than any top 20 ranking. If you (or your parents) are really dissatisfied with the ranking of the university you start at, it is always possible to transfer to a higher ranked university later if you do well. However, if you have chosen a place with a great program in your intended major and in a location you like, then chances are you will not even want to transfer later. In fact, many students who do get accepted to high-ranked universities do not even go there, and instead go places that offer them full scholarships instead – in other words, they go where it is financially feasible.

My daughter was admitted to an Ivy, as was her high school friend, and they both chose big scholarship packages to lesser ranked universities, and never looked back. While being at her "lesser"university, my daughter wound up with many awards, including being the only undergraduate in the United States selected for a prestigious international program related to her major. It didn’t make one bit of difference that she was at a public university instead of an Ivy university. Her achievements were what mattered. So just go where it’s affordable, and do your absolute best there, and you can get lots of recognition and prestige for your accomplishments there, opening the door to great job opportunities or graduate programs.