For many high school students, trying to assemble their first college list can be confusing and overwhelming. There are many different criteria to take into consideration and sometimes it can seem like you will never be able to narrow down your list to a reasonable number of schools, especially at the very beginning of your search.
One tried and true method of sorting through the seemingly never-ending list of schools is to compile “Needs” and “Wants” lists before you even start looking at schools. With this handy list of criteria, you can easily see what schools you should continue to explore and which schools you don’t need to spend more time looking at.
The idea is pretty simple. To start out, make two different lists, one titled “Needs” and the other titled “Wants.” On the “Needs” list, you put everything you absolutely cannot live without while at college. Really think about what you need to be happy. For me, some of the needs on my list were the majors I thought I might be interested in, a very traditional northeast college campus, and a place nearby to practice my religion. Other needs might include if the school accommodates any dietary restrictions you have, location or commute time from where you currently live, whether the school is public or private, or if there is a sport or club that you know you must be involved in. Since these are needs, whenever I started looking into a new school I would first check for these criteria and if the school didn’t have all of them (or at the very least more than half of them) I would stop looking at that particular school and save myself time. For early in the process I think that it is helpful to keep your “Needs” list relatively short so you do not limit your search too much. As you build a preliminary list and start touring schools, you can begin to add more “Needs” to your list and further narrow down your search.
I would highly discourage including anything related to the price of tuition or the school’s estimated cost of attendance on your “Needs” list. What the school posts on it’s website as the estimated tuition is rarely what anyone is actually paying to attend after scholarships and financial aid are factored in. Once you have a smaller list of schools that you are looking at it is encouraged that you look into the tuition, room and board, and other expenses at each school but initially you should not rule out an otherwise perfect school for you based on its published estimated cost of attendance.
On your other list you put all your “Wants,” or things that you don’t necessarily need while at college but would make your overall experience better. On my “Wants” list I put some of the types of clubs and extracurriculars I thought I might be interested in as well nice dorms/living facilities and a great library since I knew I’d be spending lots of time there studying. Your “Wants” list can be a bit longer since these criteria are not deal breakers when it comes to looking at schools and will be less limiting. Mainly I made my “Wants” list so that I knew additional things to look for when I was touring schools or just leisurely looking at different school’s websites. They were not necessarily things I would look for right after hearing of a school I might be interested in but things I might go back and look for once the school became a serious consideration.
Compiling “Needs” and “Wants” lists is not only helpful in narrowing down your choices for schools, but also in determining what is most important to you. Figuring this out early in the process can help you later when you are writing admissions essays since you have already taken into consideration your interests and what each school uniquely offers you. When you’re just beginning to compile your college list, it can be confusing but with a little organization and planning the task can be much more manageable and even fun!