5 Questions to Narrow Your College List


  1. Can I afford this (and is it worth it)? Cost of Attendance can include more than just the school’s marketed tuition/room/board. Check out our post on COA and how to calculate exactly what college might cost you. Discuss with your parents ahead of time their estimated contribution, and make a realistic estimation together. Weigh whether you might want to attend graduate school, and whether your list of schools now will allow you to afford that later.

2. Does this school offer my preferred major (and minor)? Often students fall in love with schools (or the idea of them) before ensuring the college offers a range of the majors they’re interested in, and have the right department and courses. Check out the course listings ahead of applications-- are you excited about what’s been offered and what’s coming? Are these classes you’d like to sit in on? If not, keep looking. You also don’t need to know your major ahead of time-- but it does help to know if you’d like to go into a STEM field or the humanities (or combine the two) and you can research schools that offer solid overall programs.

3. Does the student life sound like the right fit? This is a category that often baffles students, and for good reason. What is student life? Student life can be anything from housing, to Greek life, to whether a college offers the choirs or art resources that you’re interested in pursuing. If having a wide range of food and living options is important to you, a small school with only a couple of cafeterias might not be the right fit. Consider whether a school is religious, what the drinking culture is, whether you want a school with a big sports culture or with emphasis on social justice. Research on a school’s website or check out unigo.com to get individual students’ interpretations of their own experiences with campus culture.

4. Do I want to live at this college and in this town? Location might not seem like a big deal when you’re researching academics and looking at sunny pictures of the quad, but an urban, rural or suburban setting can make a huge difference in your day-to-day life and, maybe most importantly, opportunities for internships and volunteering outside of your academic load. But consider the other side-- are academics more important to you than location? Does it matter as long as you’re surrounded by dedicated professors and passionate students? Which leads us to our last suggestion…

5. What are my priorities? Ultimately, knowing what matters to you, and knowing how distinct college campuses can actually be from one another, will make the narrowing process easier. Make a list of everything you require in a college (and everything you could compromise on if necessary) in order of importance. Keep careful notes on your schools so that you don’t confuse one program or campus with another. Narrow your list to a good range of safety, fit and reach choices, and start applying! Check out our post on curating your perfect school list. You’re not committing quite yet, so don’t stress too much. Need help answering any of these questions for yourself? Hughes College Prep can give you a new perspective on the schools you’ve already gathered, and help you jump ahead with a personalized list.