So you’re starting the college application process. Congratulations! The first step in the process is building a list of schools to which you’d be interested in applying. We usually suggest this initial list contains 20-30 possibilities, and it’s important to consider a number of different factors. Here are four steps to get you started on building your college list:
1) Start geographically. Are there areas you are especially interested in? Are there areas you definitely do not want to be in? Are you absolutely against cold winters, or do you want to ski on the weekends? Is being near the ocean important or do you prefer having the mountains nearby? Do you want to be close to home and family, or do you prefer some separation? Start by taking out a map and deciding where you could live for four years, and where you couldn’t.
2) Small, medium or large? Decide what size of school you would prefer. Do you want small classes and familiar faces, or does the diversity and options of large universities excite you? How closely do you want your college experience to resemble that of your high school? Consider your ideal-size school.
3) Environment. Do you want all the amenities and energy of a big city? Or is it enough to be close to a large metropolitan area, and enjoy a little bit slower pace in the suburbs? Is a small college town in a rural area more your style? Consider what you want the off-campus environment to be like, as you won’t be spending all of your time on campus.
4) Program of study. If you have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to study in college, make sure every college on your list has that program or something very close to it. If you are undecided, as many students are, a school with a solid liberal arts program with lots of options might be a good idea for you. There is nothing wrong with discovering your passion in college.
How do you get from a list of 20-30 to a list of 10 schools you’ll apply to? Start visiting campuses. You don’t have to visit them all, but visit a handful and take notes on what you like and don’t like. Make sure you talk to current students about their impressions. Then extrapolate what you find and how you feel and apply that to the schools you weren’t able to visit, based on what you know about them. Start crossing off schools that don’t meet your criteria.
The X Factor: For many of our students, when they find that right-fit school, they just know. They can feel it in their gut. Don’t dismiss that feeling. Sometimes the school you really love isn’t the school that looks the best on the spreadsheet.