How to Narrow Your College List
As you enter your junior year in high school, your college list likely will be unfocused and way too large. Most students wind up applying to six to eight schools, and narrowing your list to that range takes self-reflection. You have to be honest in assessing the type of person you are and what you hope to gain from your college experience.
I’ve found that students often are influenced by their parents and peers. They’re not encouraged to ask, “What is it that I want?” So when I meet them, I ask, “What type of learning environment do you want?” There is no right or wrong answer. After all, everyone is different.
I’ve found that students often are influenced by their parents and peers. They’re not encouraged to ask, “What is it that I want?”
To determine what best suits you—and, in turn, to narrow your list down to something manageable and realistic—here are some key areas to consider:
If you prefer an intimate classroom setting and personal interaction with your professors, a smaller school will fit the bill. You might have more leadership opportunities at a smaller college. Obviously, you can make more of an impact at an institution of 1,200 than one of 40,000.
Among the appeals of larger schools is that they offer more majors. Big universities are also attractive to kids seeking a robust social setting, one that has, say, a thriving Greek scene or Big Ten football and basketball. There tend to be more extracurricular outlets at larger schools.
Is avoiding the expense of flying back and forth to school a priority? If so, focus on colleges that are close to home. On the other hand, some students are drawn to faraway locales; maybe they love the vibe of the California culture or the natural wonders of Colorado. Other kids might seek out an urban campus because of everything a big city has to offer, such as abundant internship opportunities.
Cost is obviously a huge factor. Does your family need financial aid? If so, build your list around colleges that will offer you the best financial aid packages. The more selective schools—as great as they are—probably won’t give merit-based aid because everyone there also has strong grades and test scores.
How much debt are you willing to incur? We as parents need to do a better job of not allowing massive college loans to happen. It’s counterproductive for a child to be in debt for 20 years after graduation.
Academic Majors of Interest
There are schools that are known for particular majors. Purdue, for example, has a superior engineering program. Is journalism your career goal? Then the University of Missouri might be a viable option. Do you want to pursue a degree in economics? Then Miami of Ohio is a possibility.
Are you unsure of a major? That’s okay, too. Find a college that is strong in your general areas of interest, and something will click when it comes time to settle on a major. The key is to study what you love. You’ll get better grades, and you’ll be happier.
You have to be honest in assessing the type of person you are and what you hope to gain from your college experience.
It’s important to attend a college that is in your wheelhouse intellectually, even if it may be a notch below another institution in which you managed to be accepted. Do you really want to go to a school where it might be hard to keep up academically with your peers? It can be self-defeating. Some 18-year-olds haven’t yet neared their intellectual peaks. We don’t want them to become frustrated in a setting where they can’t keep up. They’ll be better off at a college where they have the time and space to grow into their potential.
If you’re a student who needs very structured support services, fortify your list with schools that meet this requirement. A number of colleges, such as the University of Arizona, are renowned for programs that are designed around students with learning challenges or learning differences.
Following these guidelines will help you narrow your list to a set of schools that work for you. It will make the application process much less cumbersome and your actual college experience much more rewarding.
Karen Daluga is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Daluga and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.