Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr.

Summer is the time to begin compiling the infamous List. The List is the pool of colleges that high school seniors draw upon for visits, interviews, and supplementals throughout the college process. One way or another, students must dwindle down the list of 4,140 colleges in the US to anywhere from 8 to 20, and so many tough decisions must be made.

Why So Few?

There are multiple reasons why students can only apply to so many colleges, and the question of how many schools to apply to is one that is personal and relative. While I cannot tell anyone exactly how many colleges to apply to, I can say that you will have to eliminate some options for the sake of your own sanity. No one can fill out an infinite number of supplements, and minimizing the number to only as many as necessary will result in efficiency and thus reduced stress during a very overwhelming time.

How Do You Know?

The ideal way to “know” that you should stop counting a school among your possible choices is if you cannot picture yourself at that school, then it’s not for you. If you are like me and have a very confused, delusional, and/or muted inner voice, then this is just a very aggravating method.

Early on in the college process, before you interview or even visit any schools, you should be able to eliminate some options by reading guide books. First, pick a school you were never, ever considering, and read about it. Why don’t you like it? Is it in an unappealing location, do the people not sound great, are the classes too big? Whatever it is, remember what you don’t like and get an idea of how that feeling sits with you so that you can recognize it in more uncertain situations.

When visiting or interviewing with a school note your enthusiasm about the place and people. Try and be aware of other circumstances like weather or personal situations that may be impacting your mood so as not to confuse feelings about the school with something else.

After you have visited a school or devoted some time to researching it, consider how you remember it and how it comes to mind. While I generally have a screwed up inner voice, I did often get the sense when leaving a college visit that I would never come back to certain places. It could have been a great trip, and I could have liked the school, but I couldn’t imagine ever returning.

How to Say NO

This depends on how you have formed your list and who is involved in your process. If it is not too late, try and keep the early versions of your college list to a need to know circle. It is surprising how parents and family members can form attachments to certain schools very early on in YOUR college process, so be mindful about letting everyone into the fold.

When fewer people know, it is easy enough to delete a name off of your list. First you must make sure that you understand what crossing this school out means. Stop factoring it in to your application costs and supplement times, contemplating its pros, and worrying about whether or not you would hypothetically get in. Just stop thinking about it, and if you can’t, maybe reconsider crossing it off.

While you should stop thinking about the school and remove it from your college list, consider making a separate list of schools you are no longer considering. Just give three words about why it was eliminated (ex: small, far, expensive). It will be helpful when second guessing and making future decisions to remember why a given school was eliminated. If you come across another school with a similar problem, you should note that and consider cutting that off as well.

Keep Updated

Make sure that everyone you are including in your elimination process knows that you are no longer considering a certain school. It is important for those helping you schedule visits and recommending other schools to know when and why a university is off the table. Sometimes you will need to be firm, so go in knowing why you do not want to look at that school and be able to explain your decision.



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