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Determining College Fit: Five Steps to Narrowing Down Your College List

Friday | March 16, 2018 | by Zaragoza Guerra

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There are over 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. Big, small, urban, rural—name what you are looking for, and you are bound to find it. As a consequence, it can be easy for international students to become overwhelmed with choices or to stick to schools well known around the world. Either scenario, however, could inhibit a student from finding the school of their dreams—or at least the school that might be best equipped to help a student reach their goals. So how should you even begin to narrow down your choices? Where do you even start? Here are some suggestions for finding your best college fit:

  • Begin with a manageable list. There is no need to research every college and university in the U.S. Use a college search tool, like Big Future, to narrow down your set of options to a reasonable few—a preliminary 30 or 40, perhaps. Not all schools will offer your major or will be located in your geographical set of preferences, so widening or narrowing your search parameters should get you to a wieldy set in no time.
  • Beat U.S. News & World Report at its own game. Do not let a group of strangers trying to sell magazines determine your college fit; instead, come up with a ranking system tailor-made to your own set of values and what is important to you. Below are some examples of the criteria you could include for each school you evaluate:
    • Geographical setting
    • Core curriculum
    • Breadth of majors
    • Residential life
    • Starting salaries upon graduation
  • Use a spreadsheet to organize your top college selections. Place your narrow group of 30 or 40 schools into a spreadsheet and add columns for each of the values you have outlined as important to you. But do not simply list data for each school; instead, rate each school. Give each school a gut-reaction rating from one to ten for each criterion you have highlighted. Then average those ratings for each school. Once you have sorted your averages from highest to lowest, it will become pretty obvious in no time which schools are tugging at your heart strings.
  • Include third-party opinions in your rankings. Some college ranking systems incorporate a school’s reputation within their numbers. There is no reason you cannot do the same. But consider a systematic approach and do your research! Invest in two college guides: perhaps the Princeton Review, written from a student perspective, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which offers excellent school summations. Each guide will describe a school in a quick few pages. After reading a school’s entry, give it a gut-reaction rating—one rating for each guide’s description of the school. Include those two ratings in your averages above, and voila, you now have some dimension and narrative research incorporated into your college rankings.
  • But do not stop there. Perhaps you have been able to visit schools that you ranked highly on your list. Include your impressions of the visit into your rankings by rating your experience. Maybe you have been able to read the course offerings for your prospective major within your top ranked schools’ course catalogues—rate those impressions and incorporate those ratings, too. Your perspective might change the more research you do. Do not be afraid to let your rankings reflect that.

Coming up with your own version of a ranking system and doing extensive research can help you determine which college is the right fit for you. Best of luck in your college search!

Related Reading

The U.S. Admissions Process: Admitting Classmates, Not Just Students

U.S. Colleges and Universities

Applying to Safety, Target, and Reach Schools

Zaragoza Guerra is the Director of Educational Consulting at College Coach.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).