Narrowing down a list?
Currently in the process of cutting down my 30-something school long list to around 12-16 schools (which is still quite a bit). I'm having a difficult time cutting down the list. Using a spreadsheet, I already removed some based on estimated cost, job placement, and location, but am really not sure what to look at next. Should I just throw caution to the wind and apply to 20? I'm not sure if getting it lower than that is possible to be honest, and I'm already planning on working on apps all summer, so what's a few more? Also, what else should I be looking at? Are experiences from past students reliable?
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One thing that helped me gauge my interest in different schools was browsing their websites. I looked at clubs, available majors/minors, articles written by students, research being done by faculty/students, etc. Doing this made me really excited about some of the schools, and less excited about other schools--as a bonus, a lot of schools have a "why this university" essay, so as you peruse the websites you can take note of the specific things you like about the school. If you can't write a heartfelt essay about why you want to go to a certain school, you may want to remove it from your list.
Another thing to try is going to info sessions on Zoom (some with AOs/financial aid officers, some with students). You can get a good sense of what people like about the school and feel out whether you would like it there. After going to these Zoom meetings, take a quick note about whether you're excited about the school (don't overthink it, just go on instinct and take this gut feeling into consideration when you're narrowing down the list). If you can go places in person (especially with schools in a climate/region you've never been to), do that too because you may find out you either don't vibe with it or REALLY feel at home there.
Finally, don't underestimate the value of an easy/free application; if you have 4 safeties on your list that are fairly interchangeable to you but 2 of them have no application fee and/or don't require supplemental essays, choose the easier applications. You still want to have time to enjoy your summer and your senior year! Along this same line of thought, look at how many supplemental essays each school on your list has and take note of it on your spreadsheet if you haven't already. Looking at the amount of work each school requires can be a good gauge of interest; for example, I had Princeton and Columbia on my list (they had a similar number of supplemental essays), but my immediate instinct was that Princeton would be worth the extra effort (for me) and Columbia would not.
IMO, 20 schools is too many to make a strong application for each school (it also costs a lot of money in application fees). 12 seems a lot more manageable, but if you can cut it down even more that would be great! I applied to 6 and even that was a little overwhelming for me, but I know several people who applied to 12-ish and managed it well. Just focus on choosing schools where you can ensure your genuine interest will shine through in your applications (keep it balanced though with safeties/target/reaches). I hope this helps, best of luck with everything!!
@jw26 has already given you a really really good answer so I'll just chime in with my thoughts although they mostly echo the points made by @jw26.
I'll start with the most important thing I think @jw26 mentioned and that would be the quality of applications. Right now you basically have 6.5 months to work on your applications - seems like a lot of time right? Unless you're applying ED or EA which means you have less time, about 5 months. This means you'd need to complete 3-4 schools a month in order to finish in time. And most schools will have multiple essays. And this is assuming you're starting work on all your essays now, before you know for certain what they will be.
If you wait until Common App opens (August 1) so you know 100% what the essays you need to write are you're going to have even less time. You'd have about 3 full months for any schools you're applying to ED/EA and 5 months RD. You'd need to knock out 4-6 schools a month at that point. It's doable if you're motivated, which it seems like you are, but it's a ton of work and probably stress. In the end you'll most likely get them all done but do you think you will be able to say each application is 100% your best effort and best chance to get you accepted?
This might not be an issue for you but also consider the cost of applying to 20 different schools. You could easily spend $1,000 in just application fees alone. For a lot of people that is a lot of money and not super feasible.
As far as things to consider in narrowing down your list, I think there is a lot you can still look into. First, how many of those schools are safeties, target, reaches? If you have a bunch of safeties it's probably not necessary to apply to them all. Research what the campus community and social life is like. What size school do you want? This can be a big one. What about class sizes? Obviously making sure they have your desired major or any majors you might consider changing to. Job placement was good to look into but also look into what opportunities the schools have while you're still attending. Will you be able to get internships/do research/get job placements easily? If you want to study abroad is that something they have/is it any good?
I think experiences from past students are definitely reliable too. Reach out to any classmates who graduated already and are attending schools you are interested in. Use youtube or other sites and watch videos from current students. Talk to family or family friends who might have kids in college.
What's important in a school will be different for each person. Dig deep and figure out what you like that is an absolute MUST at any school you apply to. Imagine the type of experience you want in college and think about what makes that experience for you. Use that thinking to create a list of things you definitely need, things that are nice to have, and things you don't care about. Then go through your schools and see which ones check off the right boxes for you.
At the end of the day applying to 20 schools is possible. Would I recommend it? No, probably not. But if you think you'll be able to get your best application out for each school there's nothing stopping you from doing it. But before you do that definitely think more about what you're looking to get out of your college experience and I'm confident you can cut down your list. Because, at the end of the day, you're still only going to be able to go to one school.
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