The Prospect has plenty of articles showing how to choose the right college from a list you’ve already made (see here) but this one will show you how to organize that list so you can get a basic visual overview of how your schools rank according to your personal standards.

My example will be on Google Sheets, but you can use any spreadsheet program that suits you. I personally encourage Sheets so it’s accessible on your phone or any computer.

Step 1. Image from personal library.

Step 1.
Image from personal library.

List your school choices in Row 1, starting in Column B. School 1 in Cell B1, School 2 in Cell C1, School 3 in Cell D1, and so on. In Column A, list the basic school details: location, visit/tour date, etc.

Then list the specific details in Column A, the details that are important to you. Add anything that could be a factor in your school choice: cost of application, price, distance from home, dorm quality, food variety, campus size, certain clubs, etc. When you come across a detail in your later research that may be important, add it to Column A. For example, maybe you didn’t consider you might want to join an Asian sorority until you saw that Rutgers had one.

Now here’s where the actual work comes in: research and input the details into the spreadsheet. First, consider the school’s actual websites and college review websites like Niche or US News. (All the info I found for the example spreadsheet came from US News and my own personal knowledge.) Pro-tip: instead of navigating college websites, try googling “Rider University application fee” or “Rutgers Newark tour dates”. It gets you to the specific information quicker than wandering through the actual website.

Step 2. Image from personal library.

Step 2.
Image from personal library.

Even better tip: don’t forget the gold mines of Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. These sites are great for brutally honest reviews. People love raving about cool dorm decorations and complaining about subpar dining options. Look for “[Insert school name] Problems” on Twitter, “[insert school name] Confessions” on Facebook, or #[insert school name] on Tumblr.

Here’s the visual part: Fill in the background of each detail cell with how well it matches your interests. Green means “Good.”, yellow means “Eh, I could live with it.”, red means “No, thank you.” Add or subtract from the amount of colors you use depending on how strict you are with the school details. Maybe your standards are either pass/fail, so only use green and red. If you’re more lenient, use a wider range of colors.

The example doesn’t show each cell filled in with text; the details you input can be as specific or general as needed. Maybe class size isn’t a deal-breaker but you ideally want small classes. When you read that Rutgers has mostly large classes, you don’t need to input “20-50+”. You know it’s a “No, thank you” so you leave it empty and color the cell red.

Now you have all of the school specs that matter to you and an overall visual on how the school qualifies in terms of your personal preferences. Those with the most green cells in their column may be your top choices, while those with the most red cells could afford to be knocked off the list. You can stop there, but I’d go on to organize the schools further.

Step 3. Image from personal library.

Step 3.
Image from personal library.

I’d rearrange the mostly-green schools to be placed on the left of the spreadsheet so I focus on those more. The mostly-red schools can either be deleted or moved aside to the right if you’re still inclined to keep them in your consideration.

And now with everything organized, you can go back to TP’s articles about actually picking colleges (link here again). Good luck!

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the author

Alicia Lalicon is a junior at The College of New Jersey, pursuing a Psychology major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. When she’s not reading about mental health and feminist ideas, she proudly enjoys dancing across bamboo sticks as the secretary of Barkada (TCNJ’s Filipino club). Her life philosophy is to always strive for improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” You can find her being seemingly cold-hearted on Twitter, reblogging black clothes and food on Tumblr, and reading intently behind a book or laptop screen.

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