How to Narrow College Search

You have your initial list of colleges that you have brainstormed and it contains 50+ schools! What do you do now to refine your college list? Here are some ways you can narrow down your choices to find the colleges that are best for you.

1. Consider the College’s Location

Think about where you want to be in proximity to your home. I know, you say you can be anywhere in the country, but give a bit more thought to what that means. If you head to California and you live in Connecticut, are you ready to not be able to just come home for a weekend or even Thanksgiving break? Are you ready for your parents to be asleep at 8pm, your time, when you really want to speak with them since it is 11pm their time? If something goes wrong and you would like your parents to come to you, or, worse yet, you need them to since it is an emergency situation, they can’t get to you for a day or two. It may be that this is of no issue to you and being across the country, or even a few hours plane flight away vs. a car ride, is also of no issue to you and your parents. All I am saying is that it is something to give thought to.

2. Assess Each School’s Academics

Make sure that the schools on your college search list have the major you are interested in. You may be drawn to a specific school for a myriad of reasons, but if they don’t have the major or majors that you are considering, take the college off of your list. If you end up attending that school and decide to major in an area that isn’t offered at that school you will have no choice but to transfer, which can be complicated on many fronts, socially and financially to name a few.

Also, think about the way you learn. Will you feel comfortable in classes with 600 other students for your general education classes? Do you prefer to have frequent accessibility to your professors? It is important to consider the size of the classes at the college you wish to attend.

3. Look at the College’s Overall Environment

Every college has a personality. Schools may have similar statistics, but when you drill down to what the school’s “personality” is, each one is different. Trust me, I have visited over 400 schools and each time I have a preconceived notion of what they will be like only to find out when I step foot on campus it is completely different. Is the institution socially liberal or conservative, preppy or granola like? Do students go skiing every weekend, is it an outdoorsy group of students? Is it a city school where the city is your campus or is it located in a more rural area? What do you want out of your college experience? What is going to work best for you? Go to and/or and read what the students say about their school. Although you should never believe any individual comment, look for trends.
Look at a map (yes, online) and see where your colleges are located. Rural, suburban, near a city or in a city. Do you want to attend sporting events that are a focus at the school or is that not that important to you? What works best for you. Continue to ask yourself this question. The more you dig into the school’s personality, the easier it will be to narrow your college search list.

4. Make Sure the School Is a Financial Fit

This one I cannot stress enough. Have a discussion with your parents to find out what they can and are willing to pay and put towards your college education. For most families, there are boundaries. Are the schools you are looking at within those financial boundaries? If you can’t pay the sticker price of the school, will you qualify for financial aid or will you be eligible for merit aid if the school even offers it? This may depend on where you fall in that school’s application pool. If you are more towards the top of the pool and the school offers merit money, you may be awarded some of these funds. Find out how much. If you qualify for financial aid, you need to understand how much aid you will qualify for and how much the colleges on your college list may offer. Or, what if you won’t qualify for financial aid and your parents’ financial boundaries are far below the cost of attendance for that school? Financial consideration is complicated, but paramount in refining your list. Take schools off the search list that you can’t afford. Trust me on this one. It is devastating if you get accepted but can’t attend since you aren’t able to afford it. In addition, don’t get enamored with a school and decide to go into great debt to attend. There are plenty of schools for you that you can afford.

Research, Research and Research Some More

The more research you do the better off you will be. Knowledge is power. Get the facts and find out what is going to work best for you and your family. This is your journey and no one else’s. Although others will want to provide you their “expertise” on what is best for you and impart their “knowledge” on what they think is fact, beware. People certainly are not relaying information onto you in malice, but unless they are experts in the field, the information they are providing you may be completely false and sending you in a direction that can be dangerous to you. Keep your blinders on and assess colleges according to what you need, want and desire by focusing on the four factors above – this is how you will best narrow down your search.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.
Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone and by email.