The College Search: Using Time and Spreadsheets to Assess Colleges

Olivia Gallucci holding RIT acceptance cake in Morrestown, New Jersey


(unknown date) — When searching for colleges, I thought about a multitude of things. First, I thought about the occupations that could work with my personality and academic interests. I used this information to help choose my major. I knew I wanted to work with computers, so I decided computer science would be my safest major. Second, I googled which schools had the best computer science courses. U.S. News’ “Best Colleges and National Universities” rankings directed me to which schools I should look at. Third, I created a college comparison spreadsheet to compare colleges.  


“College Statistics” section of my first college comparison spreadsheet. Made in the summer of 2018.
“Tuition” and “Room & Board” section of my first college comparison spreadsheet. Made in the summer of 2018.

I went a little overboard with my first college comparison spreadsheet. Although it was very time consuming, a lot of the data was collected for me. I learned how to make automated data collection programs from YouTube. If I could not find information for a college, I left the cell blank. However, some rows are left blank because I either got bored or the school was no longer relevant to me. 

I do not recommend creating a spreadsheet this detailed. Most of the data became obsolete after I decided to dual major in cybersecurity and computer science. (I will explain more about changing my major in the “Applying” section of this article). However, my close friends created similar spreadsheets, and they found them to be effective. 

Changing paths

As my goals changed, I needed to reassess the schools that I was planning on applying to. In other words, when I decided that I wanted to specialize in cybersecurity, I had to remove most of the schools on my list. 

Instead of making a new overly-complicated college spreadsheet, I decided to create a new college comparison spreadsheet. 

Revamping my spreadsheet

My new spreadsheet was much more serious. I separated my schools into three categories: safety, target, reach[1]. At this time, I did not have any reach schools to apply to. My GPA was good, so I decided to only use SAT scores when labeling a school with safety, target, or reach. 

If my SAT score was above the 75th percentile in CR+W and Math, I labeled that school as a ‘safety school.’ If my SAT score was above the 50th percentile in CR+W and Math, I labeled that school as a ‘target school.’ Lastly, if my SAT score was above the 25th percentile in CR+W and Math, I labeled that school as a ‘reach school.’ 

When my CR+W and Math score did not fit into the same label, I rounded to the closest label and took the ‘average’ of the labels. For example, if my CR+W score was above the 75th percentile, but my Math score was above the 50th percentile, I still considered this school a safety. (NOTE: I did not apply to any school where I was below the 25th percentile, which is why there is no ‘super-reach’ section on my spreadsheet.) 

My spreadsheet also included each school’s location, 6-year graduation rate, percent of returning freshman, and the percent of classes with less than twenty students. 

Second college comparison spreadsheet. Started in the Winter of 2018 and the Spring of 2019.

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Portrait of Olivia Gallucci in garden, used in LNP article.

Written by Olivia Gallucci

Olivia is an honors student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She writes about security, open source software, and professional development.