Applying to College: How to Narrow Down a List of Schools

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To simplify the process and reduce costs, students will eventually need to decide which schools to apply to (MCC)

College requires a significant commitment of time and money. High school seniors are expected to have an idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives and then find schools that can help them achieve their career goals.

By the time many high school students reach their junior year, colleges have undoubtedly already sent them brochures highlighting their programs. Applying to college is much simpler than it once was, thanks in part to various software programs that centralize and streamline applications. But the application process can still be complex and even expensive. To simplify the process and reduce costs, students will eventually need to decide which schools to apply to. The following strategies can help students narrow down their lists.


A match school is one you’re likely to get into. A reach school is one that is more selective and could be a bit of a stretch for acceptance. A safety school is one that’s likely a guaranteed acceptance. A well-rounded college list includes a mix of these types of schools. College application fees range from $20 to $90, so set a reasonable limit for applications. Choosing around three to four matches, two safeties, and at least one reach is a good cutoff.


Turn the criteria around and narrow down prospects by what doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you don’t like the hot weather, so certain Southern schools may be out. If you do not like large lecture halls, maybe schools with a huge student population and large classes can be eliminated. Weed out what you don’t like to help narrow your options.


Before applying to schools, thoroughly research all costs. According to CreditKarma, in 2022 the average tuition at public colleges in the United States was $10,577 per year, while private college tuition cost $33,230. Additional costs include room and board, meal plans, books, and any technology or additional fees. Discuss these costs with your family. Compare them to what the expected family contribution will be, and approximately how much aid money can be expected from each school (this information is typically included on the school’s website or through college comparison tools). Cost alone could weed out many options.


Eliminate any school that doesn’t offer your intended major. Eliminate schools that do not offer the courses you desire.


Visit as many schools as you can in person. A school that looks one way on the internet may not come across the same when you schedule a tour and see the facilities up close. Firsthand impressions are important considering this is where you’ll be spending time for the next four years.

When narrowing down colleges, some additional considerations are: distance from home, campus life, potential internship opportunities, and other criteria that are important to you.

-Metro Creative Connection