Picture this. It’s fall senior year and you hear everyone whispering about it, others still debating which one makes the cut, and you’re frozen in the hallway – freaking out inside about this list you don’t yet have. Yup, the college list.
With over 2,000 universities in the U.S., how do you narrow it down to 10-15 schools to apply to? What questions should you ask? How do you know you’re making the right choice? Parents, friends, and every adult incessantly ask you about it, as if all you’re worth boils down to this short list you’re asked to arbitrarily put together.
While it’s certainly stressful, it can also be a very exciting time. Here, you have a choice of where you want to go to school and what you want to study. So, while all the questions and judgment may be overwhelming, focus on yourself, remember what makes you happy and what you’re truly passionate about.
Here’s a few tips to help you put together the big list:
1. Field of Interest
This is truly the first time in your life you’ll get the opportunity to decide what you would like to study. You get to choose a specific academic program and decide which courses you wish to take throughout your 4 years. If you already have a specific field in mind like architecture or biology, this should be the research intensive part of your college search process. Finding out which schools offer specific majors, and the curriculum that they have, and the professors in their faculty.
If you don’t yet know what you want to study, that’s okay too! Consider the studying and learning style you thrive in. Do you like structure? If so, then a school with a core curriculum like Columbia would best suit you. If you so many interests you don’t know what to pick, then Brown’s open curriculum will be much more suited to you.
“I would say that the most important thing to do when choosing schools you apply to is finding schools that have the best programs for what you want to study. Personally, I was looking for great business schools, so I applied to UPenn and Washington University in St. Louis, and I was going to apply to schools like Cornell and USC. A piece of advice: While it’s great to aim high in general, make sure that you are not applying to all ivy league schools when you know that many of them don’t have the best undergraduate courses and activities for you and your preferred major specifically. I know some people that just applied to schools based on status, and they regretted that later.” – GoQuakers, UPenn ‘19
How far do you want to be away from home? Most students start off with that question when it comes to considering school’s location. If you want to stay close by, consider in-state universities, or any schools in your home region. If you want a new adventure, look for universities across the country.
Then, consider the environment you want the school to be in. Do you like the city lights or the scenic nature? Can you survive being far from a cosmopolitan city? Do you want to have to drive in college? Different universities can offer a mix of these elements, but you should know how these different aspects will change your college lifestyle.
“When I was deciding what schools to apply to, one of the biggest factors was actually location. I had tons of friends trying to get as far away from home as possible, applying to schools in Massachusetts, New York, Chicago, etc. And as much as the specific schools they were applying to sounded appealing, I knew that that was not where I wanted to spend four years of my life. I personally knew that I wasn’t cut out for a New England winter, or walking to class in snow, or wearing layers upon layers of clothing. Being from California, my thoughts were, “Why the heck are you trying to leave this place?!” So, I ended up applying to schools solely in California, and felt happy with my decision. Although I may have been able to get into some of the prestigious schools that my friends applied to, I knew that I would not be happy in those locations. When it comes to choosing where to apply, keep that in mind. Boston may be gorgeous in the spring, but are you willing to endure the winter? I, for one, was definitely not.” – Eliaspb26, UCLA ‘19
Cost is the biggest factor many students have to consider when it comes to building your college list. Have a conversation with your parents and be realistic about your financial capabilities. Research the financial aid and grants each university you’re interested in has to offer. Learn about the chances you will get aid if accepted. If there are one or two private universities you are set on applying to but don’t have a large financial aid package, don’t be discouraged. There are a lot of scholarships, grants and student loan options to help you through college. This is to help you manage expectations and understand the possibility of getting accepted, but not being able to afford the tuition.
“When looking for schools to apply to it is very beneficial to look at schools not just with the best academics, but with the best financial aid. There are several schools I would have loved to apply to, but wouldn’t have been able to attend even if I was accepted! It isn’t worth it to waste money on applications for schools that won’t even be viable option. I also did a lot of research about what the general student body is like. If you feel more stressed or pressured at one school than another when they have similar academics you should take that into consideration. Additionally I realized that prestige isn’t always as important as it seems, and just because a school isn’t a part of the Ivy League doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile to look at, or a really amazing school that will fit you perfectly.” – Vantate16, Vassar ‘19
There are a lot of things you can consider when it comes to your college list. The key is to remember to prioritize what matters to you and go from there. Choosing where to college is an important decision. Make an informed decision by reading more student advice and insights on how to put together your college list from AdmitSee’s database of successful college applications.