Narrowing down your list of colleges can be challenging at the very least. There are hundreds of equally good schools out there, and many of them offer you the exact combination of academics of extracurricular activities that you are looking for. You wish you could attend them all, but of course, that’s just not possible. So how do you narrow down and get those colleges on your shortlist down to a more manageable number?
The best way to narrow down that way-too-long list is by digging deeper and looking for those numerous little and large things that make a difference. In addition to academic programs, there are several other factors that go into creating the whole college experience. There are the tuition fees, campus culture, location of the campus, and distance from home among others.
Thinking about the answers to these questions will help you eliminate a few schools from your list and narrow it down to only a few of the best-suited colleges.
What do I want to major in?
Goes without saying, this should be you’re the very first question you ask yourself.
If you already have an idea of what you want to major in, start your search by only shortlisting those colleges that offer your major.
There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when listing colleges that offer the program you are interested in:
- List the colleges in order of their reputation in the field you are interested in. Some colleges may be ranked highly but may not have a strong program in the major you want to study. That is an important factor to consider.
- Take a look at the other programs the colleges offer. Many students change their major during their first year or even their second year. If you do change your mind, you should have an acceptable alternative.
If you are still undecided about your career goals or how to choose want to major in, make sure the colleges on your list offer programs in a couple of fields that you are at least a little bit interested in.
Some schools offer exploratory programs, which may be a great option for you. Add these to your list too if you are still undecided about your major.
Can I afford the COA?
COA stands for Cost Of Attendance. This refers to the total college costs of attending the school and takes into consideration all possible expenses, including tuition fees, board and meals, text books, additional program fees and even the cost of transportation, parking and all other miscellaneous expenses. This is not the final amount that you will have to pay. You will have to pay the net price, which is the COA minus any scholarships and grants you may be eligible for.
You may not get the final figure yet, as the exact amount of scholarships or grants you are awarded will depend on the schools. However, it will give you an estimate of how much you may have to borrow to attend that particular college. Is it worth it? That depends on the program you choose. If your major is one that pays well, it may be worth the larger loan amount as you will be able to pay it back after you graduate. On the other hand, if you know that starting salaries are low in your chosen field, you may want to shortlist colleges with a lower cost of attendance.
Does the college offer the extracurricular activities I am looking for?
College is more than just academics. The extracurricular activities matter too. If you are the kind of person who enjoys athletics, you want to make sure that the school you choose has a strong athletic program (or have these unique sports available). Same if you enjoy music, dance, debating or any other activity.
When you are narrowing down your shortlist, eliminate all of those colleges that do not have a strong extracurricular program in your area of interest.
What kind of campus do I prefer?
A college located in a rural setting offers a completely different experience from one that is located in a big city. Studying in a rural college means more opportunities to participate in outdoor activities—think trekking, mountain biking, or just cycling around and exploring the area.
Studying in a city school will be completely different. The cost of living is likely to be more expensive but on the other hand, it is easier to find internship opportunities and you will find many more off-campus social activities that you can participate in.
Think about how you would like to spend your free time and eliminate those colleges that do not allow you to indulge in your favorite off-school activities. You will be spending the next few years of your life there, so the college fit and campus setting is an important factor.
What campus size works better for me?
Some students love the hustle and bustle of a large school with large class sizes. They enjoy the relative anonymity of sitting in a classroom with a high student-teacher ratio.
Other students may do better in a smaller school with a lower student-teacher ratio. It matters to them that the teacher knows them by name and that they are recognized within that small and usually tight-knit community.
Consider what the right size college is for you and as much as possible, only shortlist colleges that meet those metrics. If you thrive within a smaller community, you would feel lost and lonely as one among thousands of students milling around campus. On the other hand, if you are looking for anonymity, a smaller sized community may feel stifling.
Trying to narrow down your list of schools may seem overwhelming at first, especially as you are likely to be starting off from a very long list. But as you keep asking yourself questions about your choices, you will start to make progress. The best advice you can get is to start early and take it one step at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed.
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