How to Narrow Down Your College List

As of right now, how many colleges are on your list? 20? 12? 5? It likely depends on where you’re at in the search process. (That being said, it’s not uncommon for students nowadays to actually send their applications to 8 schools.)

But what if your list is still looking a little bit long? Maybe the application deadlines are drawing closer and closer and you’ve still got 12 schools on your list. How do you narrow down your choices? You probably don’t want to apply to all 12, knowing you likely have to pay an application fee for each one—so eliminating some of that list is probably your best bet.

But how to begin? First off, let’s break down what your college list should have on it. There are three major types of college fit on a student’s list—match, reach, and safety. A match school is a college you are likely to get into. A reach is a college that may be a bit of a stretch. And a safety is a school in which you’re pretty much guaranteed to get into no matter what. A good college list is a healthy mix of reaches, matches, and safeties. If, for example, you had a list of 6 schools, 3 of those could be matches, 2 safeties, and 1 reach.

A person walking down a narrow alleyway.

Priority Lists

Even when you narrow down your college choices, it’s still a good idea to keep that mix of the three types on your list. Now you need to take a close look at what you want out of a school. It will be different for every student, but try to write down a collection of qualities or features you really desire out of a school and then prioritize them. Would you prefer a large school or a smaller one? Is a renowned Business program a must? Do you want to move far away from home or stick close? All of these can factor into the schools on your list. Write down your must-haves and deal-breakers.

And, lucky you, College Raptor can help you not only narrow down your list with those preferences but also show you your acceptance odds at each of them! All you have to do is enter your information in ONCE to see your personalized results at nearly every college in the US. You’ll be able to see customized cost estimates, potential financial aid, your academic match, and much more—all for FREE! We’re happy to help you discover the best college fit for you.

Use that priority list you created to start eliminating choices. You’ll likely have to make a few compromises. For example, you might really, really like a college’s amenities, but don’t like that it’s a large campus. Or perhaps you adore the campus, but don’t like that it’s several states away from home.

College Visits

Another great way to discover which colleges you want to keep on your list is by visiting them. College visits are an excellent resource when making decisions. You get to tour the campus, meet some current students, ask questions in person, maybe even sit in on a class—overall, you get a taste of the feel of that school. You can try to imagine yourself studying there. If the feel is off, you may strike that school off your list. Sometimes being there in person is really handy.

You may narrow down as you continue to look into colleges

At different points in your college search, you’ll have a different number of schools on your list. You may start with 30 and via research, narrow it to 20. You might attend a college fair and narrow it further to 15. A couple of college visits thrown in there might take it down to 10. Looking up the GPA averages, acceptance odds, and cost of attendance might knock that down to 6. Anywhere from 4-8 is a pretty good number when it comes to sending in applications.

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