How to Narrow Down Your College List

Taking a tour of USC helped me decide that it was actually a school that I was interested in applying to.

Fiona Salisbury (12)

Taking a tour of USC helped me decide that it was actually a school that I was interested in applying to.

Fiona Salisbury, Photojournalist

With a seemingly endless choice of different colleges to apply to, narrowing down your list to the right ones can become a daunting task. In a world where people place so much value on the name of an institution, people can easily become drawn to a college without knowing anything about whether that school is actually a good fit or not. Because creating the “perfect” college list can be a challenge to many students, here are some ways to help narrow down your list to the schools that are actually right for you.

Arguably one of the best ways to begin your college search is through college quizzes. Although results may be generic and oftentimes limited, quizzes provide a good starting point before you branch out and explore other options. One of the best college quizzes is College Board’s Big Future College Search. The reason I prefer this tool over other quizzes was how specific it was. Other college quizzes may simply tell you that Ivy League or large state schools are your best fit, but the Big Future College Search will list specific schools. You can narrow down your starting college list a lot by filtering through different categories that range from the usual filters of location and tuition costs to more specific categories such as various college sports or special programs.

Once you have an idea of what schools you might be interested in, you should look into schools that have good programs for what you are interested in studying. A website that I enjoy using is Niche because you can rank schools by major; in addition to this, you can also rank by other factors that may appeal to you such as student life or campus dining rankings. What matters more than the name of a school is the programs they have, so when choosing a school, you should make sure that they actually have established majors or minors in what you want to study.

After finding a couple of schools that really interest you, something that I have found beneficial is looking up videos about the college on YouTube. Watching vlogs about someone’s day in the life at a school might give you further insight to what life might be like at a school, or watching pros and cons videos can help you determine if a school’s cons might be a deterring factor in your decision. From videos, you should try to get a feel for a college’s atmosphere and if you can picture yourself attending that school; however, take these videos with a grain of salt because not everyone’s college experience is the same.

School websites can provide valuable information when narrowing down a college list. You can look further into factors such as tuition costs, school values, course requirements, campus clubs, and an endless list of things that you find important during your decision-making process. 

Hopefully, after trying many of these steps, you can narrow down your list to a good mix of target, reach, and safety schools. If there are schools that you are really set on, an optional but extremely valuable way to determine if a school is a good fit is by touring the campus or attending a summer camp. Campus tours help you get a feel for a school’s atmosphere, and summer camps help you get a taste of what it is like to be a student at a school.

Narrowing down a college list might seem intimidating at first, but it can actually be a fun experience.”

— Piper Guyton (12)

According to Piper Guyton (12) “narrowing down a college list might seem intimidating at first, but it can actually be a fun experience.” By putting in the effort to find schools that are actually a good fit for you, you can make sure that you are satisfied with the outcome of your college application process.