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How to Narrow Down Your College List 101

As someone who is applying to various universities in four different countries: USA, Canada, France, and Hong Kong (I know, I couldn’t have chosen a worst time, I wasn’t really aware of how severe things were when I sent in my applications), I had an extremely hard time narrowing down my list, especially when it got to US universities. However, I believe that after spending a summer agonizing over my list, adding and taking out a lot of universities, I cracked the code to realizing what colleges suit you the best. So buckle up! Here are the things you should consider while narrowing down or finalizing your list.

  • It might sound cliché but make lists of things you like and don’t like about each school. If the negatives outweigh the positives, you might want to reconsider applying.
  • Research each school as if you were writing a “why this school?” essay. If you can’t find enough information you like to write one of these essays, it probably isn’t the best fit for you.
  • If possible, talk to students who go to each of the schools to get a more personal vibe of the school. Even if you can’t physically go to the school to talk to them, you can try to find videos on YouTube or can read student blogs. 
  • This might sound trivial, but do consider location and campus culture which is often related to the geography of the school.  If you can’t see yourself being able to handle the weather extremes of a school, you might need to rethink things. You are going to be spending a lot of time in college, don’t go to somewhere that will constantly make you complain about how hot or cold it is.
  • This is a direct warning from my cousin who is currently doing an MD in Tufts, look into their student clubs/activities and what students do for fun on Friday nights/weekends. She completed her Bachelor’s degree somewhere else where she was bored out of her mind and this distracted her from her studies too. You’ll be spending a lot of time there, make sure that you are comfortable with every aspect of student life, and actually have other things to do outside of the classroom.
  • Make sure you have safeties, and make sure they’re true safeties. A school with a 20-30% acceptance rate is not a safety for anyone. Even the top students are not guaranteed to enter anywhere, better be safe than sorry. I would personally suggest at least 2 safeties in your list. In my US list I have none, but my French list only consists of them. 
  • Have match schools. There will most likely be a huge gap between your reach schools and your safeties. Match schools will help fill that and give you more options later down the road. Again, I would suggest at least 3. I, personally, did a big list of 11 in the US and have 7 of them.
  • If you find yourself stuck on one or two “dream schools” do apply to them, but also take a step back and figure out what specifically you like about them and look for other schools with those things. This will help you find more schools that are similar to the school(s) you love, and it might help eliminate schools that are lacking in too many areas.
  • Keeping it real, I am academically successful with plenty of extracurricular activities backing me up, that’s why my counselor asked me to apply to Ivies. This was something hard for me to realize but really, don’t apply to all 8 Ivies. I know Ivies are top schools known for academic excellence, but that doesn’t mean you need to apply to every single one. Research them all and then pick the one or two that best fit you if you really want to apply to some. To give you an idea, I am only applying to two of them.
  • Don’t apply to schools just “to see if you’ll get in” if you want nothing more than to be able to say that you got into school X or Z. 

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