Developing & Narrowing Down Your Potential Colleges List

These steps can help you create your own personalized snapshot of schools you’re considering and whether or not you should continue to consider them at all.

Elizabeth Hoyt

February 04, 2016

Developing & Narrowing Down Your Potential Colleges List

If you’re looking into colleges, and you like more than one thus far in your process, you may be wondering: How am I ever going to make this decision? Don’t fret! Most students are (or have been) in the same boat.

Making a decision isn’t as easy as simply, well, making a decision. Most students put a lot of time, thought and effort into the process. Think of it as your investigation of potential schools. You need to layout a map of what you need and want – and then figure out which schools fit the description.

These steps can help you create your own personalized snapshot of schools you’re considering and whether or not you should continue to consider them at all. Follow these to get a better idea of what you’re looking for and how to find it, ultimately resulting in a confident college decision you’ll be happy with for years to come.

1. Create a List of Makes and Breaks

This should include must-haves and can’t-stands, along with things you like but may not necessarily be deal-breakers.

For example, you may put “strong major program” under your must-haves, “huge class sizes” under can’t-stands and “knitting club” under the things you’d like to see, but may not necessarily make or break your decision.

2. Research

After you’ve created your list of the college aspects, positive and negative, it’s time to do some research into schools you’re considering. List the schools, ranking them by how many of your preferences match up to what they offer.

When a school doesn’t fit your “must-have” criteria, cross it off your list. When it meets more than one aspect you must have, it should rank higher on your potential colleges list.

3. Visit

How can you know if you’ll fit in somewhere if you haven’t even been there? It’s always smart to visit a school – and to visit the school as many times as possible. Some schools may be far away, so this isn’t always an option but, when you do have the option, take it!

The more you visit, the better idea you’ll have of the campus, students and other factors, some as simple as the weather or campus setting during different seasons. You’ll also likely be overwhelmed during your first visit, so extra visits are a great way to take in details you may miss the first time around.

4. Consider ALL Factors

Academic opportunities should be your number one priority in choosing a college that’s right for you. However, you should also consider other factors – especially because more than one school will likely fit your academic “must-haves.”

Consider factors outside of academics, like student life, involvement, location, surrounding cities, etc.

Something as simple as a campus with a strong sense of community athletic spirit may make a difference in your student experience. If that’s something you love (no matter how trivial it may seem to others), put it on your list to take into consideration.

5. Pros & Cons

Once you’ve created a list of what you want, spend some time researching the schools and determine which meet the criteria you’ve laid out, you’ll have a ranked list. That doesn’t mean you’re set on that school, though!

Visiting will help you determine if you can see yourself fitting in comfortably with the student body and campus environment. But, sometimes, after all that time and effort you still cannot decide between a couple of your choices.

That’s where a pro/con list may come in handy. Think about the aspects you like or dislike about each school, placing them under your “pro” or “con” column. Seeing these aspects in front of you may help you determine which factors matter more than others or, perhaps, if one choice has significantly more on one side of your list.

You don’t have to sit down and write this list all at once. In fact, it may be a good idea to create your pro/con list as you visit campuses and do research. That way, there’s no pressure to think of everything all at once but, rather, whenever it occurs to you naturally.

6. Note Your Questions

Write down questions about each school as they occur to you. As you go through the process of creating and narrowing down you list, you may look to research certain topics that you cannot find answers for.

Speaking with current students, campus tours, during your college interview or contacting the school are all great methods of finding the answers you need. You may have to do a little extra digging, but you should be able to find that you are able to answer all of your questions. It’s up to you to write them down so that you can ask them and get them answered.

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