Choosing a College Planning for College

Step 4: Narrowing Down Your College List

Written by CB Experts

Obviously you can not apply to all the colleges you have discovered in your college search because it would cost you and your parents a small fortune just to pay the application fees to apply! Did you know that the average application fee for a selective private college on the East Coast costs $60 or more? Multiply that fee by 15 and you will see how fast you can spend close to $1000 just on processing fees! You haven’t even factored in the travel cost of college visits and the possible expense of supplementary material for your applications.

It is important to have a good college list, but one that is manageable and affordable. Your list should include not only colleges where you will be happy but also those that maximize your chances of admission. A college list should have no less than 6 and no more than 10 colleges to enhance your chances of admission in a realistic way.

 Let’s begin the elimination process by paring your list down to 20 colleges.

Eliminate the Obvious

In this first cut, you need to use your research to eliminate a few colleges right off the bat. Go back to your research notes and review your notes on each college on your list. If you didn’t have the opportunity to visit the college campus, watch a video at FreeCollegeVideos so that you can get a “feel” for what the college might offer. No doubt you have found some things about certain colleges that will stop you from considering them any further.

  • Perhaps diversity is a very important college characteristic to you and you have found that several of your schools have very little diversity on campus. Delete them now.
  • Perhaps you do not want a campus strongly influenced by the Greek System, and you note several schools on your list that report a majority of students are engaged in Greek life. Eliminate these schools.

Through this process of immediate elimination, you will be able to quickly reduce the total number of colleges on your current list. But, more work still needs to be done to get the number down to a more manageable figure.


Prepare a Positive/Negative List

Consider this general rule of thumb in decision-making: You should always weigh the good against the bad before making a decision, and this is exactly the procedure that you will use next to downsize your college list.

First of all, prepare a chart with three columns.

  • The first column will simply be a list of all the remaining colleges on your list.
  • The second column will be used to list all of the characteristics that you like about a college.
  • The third column will be used to list all of the characteristics that you don’t like about a college.

Now use the notes from your research to fill in the pluses and minuses for each college.

Try not to get stuck in thinking that all colleges seem alike; instead, look for differences. This exercise will make you differentiate between colleges. Remember no one college is perfect; all will have good points and bad points. What you need to discover is not a good school but a good school for YOU; one that you will be comfortable attending and where the academic workload is appropriate for you.

After you have jotted down your thoughts and completed both the positive and negative categories in the chart for yourself, do a second evaluation. Sit down with your parents and discuss what they think are the pros and cons of the schools in relationship to you as a person and as a student. This step may help you add to the categories if they point out other positive and/or negative qualities that you forgot to mention and that you agree with.

Review the Results

Now it is time to study and analyze your results. Pay particular attention to the negative qualities you cite. Do any colleges sound much less interesting than you originally thought? If so, delete them now from your list. Keep only the colleges that you still hold a high interest in.

If you have worked through this exercise with careful thought and evaluation, you should have whittled your list down to 20 colleges or less.

In the next step (Step 5) you will learn to balance your college choices by developing College Tiers of Selectivity to help you to refine your college choices.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.