How to Narrow Down Your College List


Starting Off With Conducting Your College Search

Conducting a college search is all about 'fit.' There is no one college that is perfect for you, but rather several that would make a pretty good fit based on your interests, skills, values, wants, and needs. When you are starting the college search and choosing which schools to add to your list, use these questions for helping to find the college "fit."

Questions To Ask Yourself for Choosing a College

What type of school do I want? ๐Ÿซ

Universities are generally larger and offer more majors, while colleges are usually smaller and might have a more specific focus. On top of being public or private schools, colleges/universities may also be:

  • Liberal Arts colleges
  • Women's/Men's colleges
  • Art focused colleges
  • Engineering focused colleges
  • Historically black colleges (HBCUs)
  • Hispanic-serving colleges
  • Military colleges and Service Academies

How far from home do I want to be?๐Ÿก

Do you want to go to college somewhere far away, or do you want to be near family? How often do you want to visit home?

What school size do I want? ๐Ÿ‘ฅ

Big campus, or small campus? How big do you want your classes to be? You can search a school's student-to-faculty ratio and average class size on their website.

What academic programs will lead me to my career goal? ๐Ÿ’ผ

Some schools may be known for their specific programs (nursing, engineering, etc.). If you aren't sure about your career goals yet, then this question is less important.

What will it cost me to attend? ๐Ÿ’ธ

Use a school's Net Price Calculator to determine a rough estimate of what it might cost you to attend there. Keep in mind that this is only a rough estimate and that you can always apply for scholarships, but the price is often a deciding factor for many students.

Will I be able to participate in activities that interest me? ๐ŸŽจ

Research the clubs, societies, and sports at the colleges on your list. Intramural sports are a good option for those who want to start or continue a sport through college. If you like playing music, look into what musical groups and communities you could join. Looking into the clubs at a school can help you learn more about its campus culture.

Can I see myself living here for the next four years? ๐Ÿ™

Is it a residential college? What are the dorms like? Visiting campus and taking a tour is a great way to answer this question. Also consider the city or town the college is in. If you are visiting in the summer, think about what the winter is going to be like!

Where will I study? Where will I eat? ๐Ÿ“–

Each school will have studying areas, libraries, and dining halls. Could you see yourself spending time there? If food is a concern, look into the meals and dining plan the college offers.

What do classrooms look like? โœ๏ธ

You want to feel comfortable in the environment you'll be learning in. If you take a campus tour and visit some of the classrooms, make a point to also talk to the professors.

Are there the support services that I need? โค๏ธ

Some support services could include counseling, mental health services, disability services, academic advising, etc. What are your needs, and does this school fulfill them?

How does it โ€œfeelโ€? ๐Ÿ—ฃ

Does it feel welcoming? Could it feel like home? While nothing beats campus tours to help figure this out, virtual tours can be very helpful. Most colleges also have social media pages to give prospective students a glimpse into student life. You could even connect with a current student to gain an inside perspective.

What should I think about next? ๐Ÿค”

Which colleges stood out to you the most? Organize them in your college list and think about what your next steps are before applying. Click here for more on choosing a college and taking the next steps in the college admissions process. Make note of which application they use (Common App, Coalition App, region- or school-specific). Good luck!

Resources ๐Ÿ“š

College Search Tools

College Visits and Fairs


Guide Outline


Admissions Process
College Essay
College Interview
I'm a...
The Application
Check out these other guides that you might need.