Building a list of Universities can be a complicated process. As Velasco (2023) mentions, it is a process in which students experience confusion and bewilderment in the face of a decision that will define, to a large extent, their academic future. Usually in the first stage, students choose universities that they know or that someone has recommended to them, and as they dive deeper they come to realize that the decision is not a minor thing, and it’ll require thorough investigation and a deep introspective exercise to make a good decision.

Reach Best recommends to match the personal preferences and capabilities with the characteristics of Universities around the world, in order to make a decision that best fits with the student’s needs. It seems to be a daunting task if we take into account that QS ranks approximately 3,000 universities around the world. For 3 years, we’ve been developing ways to cut down University Research time. In order to calculate the value of our solutions, we decided to undertake a study to find how long does the average student take to build a list of 9 Universities, to later quantify the difference when using Reach Best.

For this study we will look at the time it takes the average international student to make their college list without the use of best-fit matching tools like Reach Best. For this aim, a total of 12 former clients’ interviews will be analyzed and a subsequent calculation of the average time spent by the students will be made.

The group consisted of an equal number of males and females. Out of the 12 people, 7 were from Mexico, 4 from Japan, and 1 from the United States. Additionally, 5 members of the group were college students, while the others were high school students. Interviews were conducted via digital video call and questions were asked regarding their experience choosing universities and the impact that Reach Best had on their process. An important emphasis was placed on knowing what the students felt while making their list of universities. Specifically their worries, fears and pains.

What problems do students face when making their list of Universities?

According to the student’s experiences, one of the primary issues is the difficulty in engaging in a reflective exercise to determine what they truly want from their future education. As several students mentioned, doing this exercise can be unmotivating because it is related to academic activities. Few students are willing to spend their free time thinking about school related issues. Additionally, the pressure to make the right choice for their future can be overwhelming, leading to anxiety and uncertainty, which is amplified by social, especially family, pressure. Another frequent issue is that students may not have a clear understanding of their own academic capabilities in relation to the average level of students admitted to universities. This leads to students not knowing which options to put on their list, causing the impossibility of making immediate decisions, causing anxiety as pressure grows as deadlines begin to approach.

These challenges can make the university selection process complex and painful for high school students. Of course, this means a considerable increase in the time of building their list of universities.

How long do students take to create their list of Universities?

According to the experiences of our students, an estimated average of 12 months were required to build a complete list of universities. The time range was from 1 month to 24 months (2 years). 4 students started their processes at grade 11, only 1 did at grade 10. The rest of them did not cite when they began. 2 of the people who started at grade 11, finished until the last month of grade 12. Those were the longest processes we found. In this study, there was not enough information to affirm that students who made research for universities abroad took longer. However, our experience at Reach Best, suggests that researching foreign Universities takes longer than researching domestic Universities, since more factors must be considered such as accommodation, visa, long application processes, language requirements, etc.

We also had one interview in which the student estimated how many hours it took him to do each stage of University research. He claimed to have spent 8 hours reflecting, 5 hours talking with people, and 10 hours doing online research (on the internet, books, etc.) This allows us to have the notion that a student takes a total of approximately 23 effective hours making his list of universities. It is highly probable that this is an underestimate of the true appropriate University Research time.

These times indicate that students, thanks to a cumulus of difficulties, spend a lot of time making their list of universities. Further research is required to find more accurate data on University research time. But, in the end, solutions are needed to make University research swifter and more effective.

What solutions have students tried?

Several different tools were used by the students to help them build a list of universities, including college counselors, information from websites, and opinions from family and friends. A female student, who is currently studying at Sofia University, Japan, reported having used tools such as vlogs and YouTube videos, as she was interested in learning about the experience of “real” people. What she found most frustrating was that there were a lot of conflicting opinions on what’s good and bad about each University, and more often than not contradictory information about the requirements as some sources of information were out-of-date, which made it more confusing and increased the amount of effort she’d need to put in to make decisions confidently.

One of the biggest problems with college counselors is that they often do not provide close support to the student. A female high school student said that “[counseling sessions were] too long, there were too many things to do, too complicated, you didn’t even feel like doing it, it made me lazy”. Another problem that can be detected with college counselors is that there is an asymmetric relationship in which the student does not feel completely comfortable in sharing their feelings about their university choice. “I don’t like that adults imposed their vision of success and failure”, the student said. In other words, students do not feel understood by adults. In some cases the same problem occurs with family advice.

The problem with internet information is that it is usually very inaccessible. It is difficult to navigate on universities websites and find the information you want. Another female student that is currently studying in ITAM, Mexico said that it took her a long time to find the information she required. Also, when she wrote emails requesting something in particular, they would take a long time to respond.


Creating a list of universities is a complex process that requires a meticulous investigation and a significant amount of reflection. Unfortunately, many students underestimate the challenges involved, because of a lack of information and tools.

Our students, on average, spent 12 months compiling their university lists, undertaking a variety of reflective, socialization, and research exercises to ensure a comprehensive and informed final selection. However, a female student currently studying at ITAM, Mexico, observed: “I don’t think I ever really solved the university problem”. This remark suggests that certain students might have formed insufficient lists or could have taken additional steps to enhance their choices. The reason why it’s important to invest in solutions that help students create their list of Universities is to improve their University admissions likelihood (applying to the right Universities will make their story resonate more naturally with the admissions officers, and also, by narrowing down options students can spend more time per University to improve how they present themselves), and to give students more time to do other activities, whether that be entertainment, academic success, extracurricular activities, or dreaming bigger.


Beaton, J. (2022) Accepted! Secrets to gaining admission to the world’s top universities. Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass.

Drewes, T. & Michael, C. (2006). How do students choose a university?: an analysis of applications to universities in Ontario, Canada. Res High Educ 47, 781-800.

Velasco, J. (2023). How to build your college list. Available in: