3 years ago
Admissions Advice

How can I narrow down my schools list?

Hi, so I'm going to be a junior in just a few of months. I started up with 50 schools in my list and I narrowed them down to 34 schools. I want to narrow them down until they're 8-12 schools. Any tips please on how to do that?

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3 answers

Accepted Answer
3 years ago[edited]

So, if you can't go in person, -you have probably already done some of this- but make a list of what you prioritize in your college education and life. Most colleges will have a variety of clubs, so no need to look into those to hard. Look at traditions, location, school size, study abroad, college majors, and quality of education. Also consider financial aid/security, acceptance rate and chance, and connections the college has. Hope this helps!

3 years ago[edited]

I quickly eliminated 1/2 of my schools by going to visit them in person. And if you can't do that, then you should do extensive online virtual tours of the campuses. One thing that is not obvious to HS students is location. Classes are only given Monday through Friday so you want to make sure you are not stuck in a city there is nothing to do. I picked a school in NYC because I felt that on weekends and evenings, I owe it to myself to have a variety of things to do. I wanted to have an endless choice of restaurants, museums, theaters, cultural activities, neighborhoods to explore. I also wanted to have easy access to transit hubs like train stations, airport terminals, and subways so I could leave the city quickly and efficiently to travel back home or visit my friends in nearby cities.

A school might be a "10" on paper but if you don't like the vibe or the location or a lack of diversity or other factors you are looking for in a college campus then you need to put it lower down on the list. I started with 75 schools. I visited about 20 in person, and only applied to 1 early decision and got in. For instance, I had Dartmouth and Cornell on my list but after doing extensive research learned that 1/3-1/2 of the students feel compelled to join a Frat or Sorority because there is nothing much else going on since their campuses are isolated in the middle of nowhere interesting. What I mean by this is if you went out for food every day, you'd exhaust the places you could eat in a couple of weeks, then what? I'm not into drinking beer or partying as my #1 social outlet so I'd didn't think I would enjoy the social aspects of these schools. I much rather prefer to use my free time to see something new, try something different or meeting new and interesting people. If those were the only schools I could get into, then I would go for sure but there always is a better school, so strive to find the one that works for you regardless of the name or clout or what other people think. You are the only one that has to go there for 4 years and be happy. So pick for yourself and be true to your own beliefs and preferences.

Here's another anecdote. I'm not particularly religious so even though I had Georgetown, Boston College, and Notre Dame on my list, I eliminated them because I really don't want to be on campus with 50% Catholics going to mass all the time. Those are great choices for Catholics but I'd rather be at a college where I could study religion and make friends with all kinds of different people who come from different belief systems.

Hope that helps.

Also, pick colleges that you know to have an excellent track record of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the possible 4th wave, you don't want to pick schools that had contagion spikes because of foolish partying and students not abiding by CDC guidelines. I'm referring to many large schools in the South. It seems like all the well-endowed liberal arts schools had their act together like Middlebury, Vassar, Colgate, Hamilton. Also, you want to be on campus so if you think the school is going to go remote online in the Fall, put them lower on the list.

Lastly pick schools that you think you have a high degree of surviving socially, politically, socio-economically, and culturally. If you are a first-gen, low-income student who is BIPOC or LGBTQIA, I would make sure that the college has proper DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) policies in place so you have multiple safe spaces to hang out, socialize and feel good about yourself. If you pick a Red-State school like Wake Forest, you might feel like a fish out of the water if you come from a very liberal family, or don't like the country club set or 'basic' looking cliques or like to dress preppy or sporty. Maybe a school in more of an urban environment will be more fun because there will be more college kids from surrounding schools to do things with as well. As you evolve and mature from a 17 or 18-year-old to your early 20s, you want to develop into your best version of yourself. So if you think you are going to be a justice warrior, well then go to a school where you get to do that. That's not going to be the University of Alabama or Arkansas. Maybe NYU or Cooper Union in Greenwich Village NYC is a better fit then.

At some point in your life, you may conclude that where you go doesn't really matter as much as whether you can get to where you want to be by going there. It's what you know and who you know that's always more important than where you go. Having an Ivy League diploma to get your foot in the door for your first great job is a perk for sure but once the honeymoon is over at work, they will expect you to step up and prove yourself, like everyone else. Like Obama, you can be President even if you go to Occidental College because you can always transfer to Columbia or another elite college when you feel the time is right. Also, if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, architect, or other professional, you will have to go to grad school so this whole undergrad thing is just a first step. Where you finish up at grad school will have more weight on your success or failure in your career.

3 years ago

Hello! I can definitely relate to this, so here are some general tips I have for you:

- In each school, make a list of pros and cons (I know this will take awhile, but it is very beneficial). With these pros and cons, if a couple schools have a lot more cons compared to others, take them out of your list.

- What will you study? If you know what you want to major in, search up the best schools in the country for that major. Then, if schools are just too far down the list, take them out.

- Location: Do you want to be close or far away from home? Do you like cold or warm weather? Do you like the rain or the sun? East coast? West coast? Come up with your preference, research each school, and see which do not fit this criteria.

- Academics: Aside from just looking at your planned major, also look at how good the schools are in terms of general academics. One thing to remember is that, in general, your reach schools (lower acceptance rates) can seem to have better academic reputations. This does not mean to have all reach schools. A general rule of thumb is to have 25% safety schools (schools you know will accept you), 50% target schools (schools you could get into), and 25% reach schools (very low acceptance rates). THIS IS IMPORTANT!

- Collegevine! You can attend livestreams about certain colleges as well as the college communities tabs! Reach out to students who go to those schools to get additional perspectives.

- Financial safety: If you are able to comfortably afford college and cost is not an issue, you can ignore this. However, cost is definitely a factor for lots of students, so make sure you do not apply to colleges that cost an outrageous amount of money unless you have a scholarship. Also! Realize that each college will (most of the time) require you to pay a certain amount of money to even apply to their school. This means that with more colleges, more money you will have to spend - just something to think about.

- AP Class Credit: If you have taken AP tests, your score could potentially qualify you for some college credits. Some colleges do not offer these credits, even if you get a perfect score on the exam. While this is not the end of the world, it would certainly help narrow down some colleges. You can find AP class credit opportunities on each college's website.

- Language requirements: If you want to get into a super selective school such as Harvard, they "highly recommend" (A.K.A pretty much require) at least four years of language. If you LOVE a school but do not have the recommended years of language, I am not telling you to not apply, however, know that it could lower your personal chance of acceptance. (This applies to all class credits - search up exactly how many credits each college wants you to have on their website. If you have a college you are "meh" about and do not have their recommended credits, take that college out of the list, it is simply not worth it).

- Dorms/campus: This kind of ties in with the general location, but a bit more specified. Would you like to spend your four (more/less) years in an urban, suburban, or rural setting? This can be important. Also, look at the dorms. Do you like the size of the dorms the college has? How many people do they normally put in each dorm?

- What kind of students go to these colleges: Research what people are learning with you. Is a school known for substance abuse? While this should not be put against all students going there, it certainly helps to know.

- Diversity: Is diversity important to you? You can go on Collegevine in each college profile to see exactly how much diversity each school has! This also applies for genders.

- Religion: Are you openly religious? Would you like a school that openly shares your same religious beliefs? Or are you not religious and would prefer a school that is also not religious?

- Sports/clubs: Do you play/watch a certain sport? What about clubs? Research what extracurricular activities each school offers to see what might interest you. Besides, college should not always be about studying.

- Internship opportunities: Internships can help you get a job that you want after college as they show your work experience. What internships are available to you at that school? How can the school help you get those internships?

- Job opportunities: What is the average salary of a graduate in your major at that school? This can vary between schools, and if salary is important to you, I would check out Collegevine resources for each school. They would have this information.

- Study abroad: Do you want to study in another country for part of your college career? Some colleges offer this. If this experience is important to you, you can cross out a lot of colleges.

These are just some that came to me. I can try and update this if I think of any others!

I hope this answered your question. Good luck!

(please reach out if you have any other questions I can answer) :)

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