The Common App is out, you’ve thought about your essays, and you’ve made a preliminary list of colleges to apply to. However, it’s WAY too long and you (or your parents) may not feel comfortable applying to that many colleges whether for monetary reasons (each application can cost upwards of 70 dollars) or for the fact that you may have to write several supplementary essays per college (which could suck up a lot of your time). Whatever it is, you need to cut down on your college list.
It is generally a good idea to start big with a preliminary list, and then cut down — but how do you cut down?
Step 1. Eliminate those that do not meet your preferences in a college.
For instance, if you prefer colleges in the Northeast, eliminate those that are not there. If you prefer colleges of a medium to large size, eliminate all the small schools! If you wish to go into engineering, eliminate the schools without an engineering department! Eliminating the schools without your ideal preferences will help you cut down on your list! Other factors to consider include: money (remember to consider financial aid via net price calculators), activities (Greek Life, Sports, etc.), location (near a city, rural, or in the suburbs), average class size, and opportunities/research available for your major. Make a list of your top five or so criteria and then eliminate colleges that do not meet those criteria.
Step 2. Do side-by-side comparisons of your college to narrow down your list even further.
Compare two colleges against each other, and pick the one you like more. A great way to do this is to use online college comparison websites or college books (such as Fiske’s Guide to Colleges). You should compare the two colleges to each other based on your most important criteria for a college.
Step 3. Visit colleges or take virtual campus tours.
Visiting provides you much more than data on a page can tell you; it tells you the great/bad personality of the college itself. It can give you insights on the college’s culture and its quirks, which is why visiting colleges is so helpful. If you do not like a college upon visitation, you can cut it off your list.
Step 4. Idealizing your list.
Though it is important to apply to colleges you love, it is extremely vital that you apply to a decent number of financial safeties so you can be sure you get into at least one or two schools that your family can afford. Especially search for schools where your scores and grades are significantly above average which can help you get much more aid. However, these schools should be ones that you love and could actually see yourself attending, since reach schools (such as the Ivy League, with less than 30% admissions rates) are extremely difficult to get into! Apply to match schools, which are in the mid-range of selectivity and schools to which your scores and grades are around the same as average or even a bit above average. Reaches are still reach schools if their admissions rates are low, even if your grades and scores are at their average or above. Really think about why you’re applying to each of the schools on the list, and if the reason is not good enough, eliminate it.
Step 5. Ask for help.
Your counselors, parents, and teachers are there to help you. Ask them for help if your list, even after all these steps, is still too long. They have gone through the college process, seen it first-hand, most likely, and know you extremely well, so they can help you narrow down your list even further.
After you’ve got a good list, go start on those essays and prepare for your applications! Good luck!