Narrowing Down Your Big College List
You’ve come up with a big list of colleges that you’re interested in applying to, but now you need to narrow it down to two dream schools, three target schools, and two backup schools.
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to make a college visit or two and completed a few virtual tours. Visiting a campus or two can help you start to get a feel for what type of school is going to best fit your needs.
Let’s start with your dream schools. These are the colleges or universities that you believe are likely out of reach for various reasons. For instance, it could be the cost, distance, your grades and/or college entrance scores aren’t high enough for you to be accepted without further review, or maybe the school doesn’t accept a very high percentage of applicants. This out-of-reach list should truly represent your dream schools; pick schools that you’d drop everything for to attend. Try to limit yourself to only two dream schools to actually apply to.
Your target schools are those that you believe are your best fit. Considering all the criteria we discussed in our last blog post, these schools meet most or all of your requirements. These schools may be very competitive, but you’ve met or exceeded the school’s academic benchmarks, which makes it more likely you’ll receive an acceptance letter.
As you’re considering your target schools, make a list of the “must haves” and “deal breakers.” Prioritize the things that are the most important to you, such as distance from home, academics, student culture, majors, campus and class sizes, athletics, dorm life, and any other aspect that is important to you. Which schools meet the most “must haves” requirements? If there’s a “deal breaker,” mark it off the list and keep going, until you’ve narrowed your list to three target schools. Each school on this list should be one where you believe you can be successful.
Next, you need to choose your backup schools. These are the ones where you’ve exceeded all the acceptance requirements and would be happy attending if you aren’t accepted to your target schools or for some reason you won’t be able to attend if accepted. Maybe your backup schools are close to home, which means you could save money by living with your parents. Or maybe these are in-state schools with lower tuition and housing costs. Plan to apply to two backup schools. Remember that they’re not your first choices, but you’d still be satisfied to attend.
Now that you have your short list, it’s time to start those applications and essays!