How to Narrow Your College List and Make Your Life Easier

One of the most difficult steps in applying to college is also the first—deciding where to apply. Ask any of the college admissions experts around the country and they will agree. Does the college offer a program that you are interested in building your career from, or if you are not sure what career you want to pursue, does it offer a wide array of skill-building options? Does the social and extracurricular scene reflect your personality and values? Will you be happy living there for the next four years? These should be some of your initial questions when you begin researching where to send those applications. Chances are good that once you have that initial list, you’ll need to narrow your search even further. Here are some questions that the college admissions experts say you need to ask yourself that will help you cut through to the important issues.

What Are My Chances of Success?

College is certainly about the experience, but don’t forget the main reason you are going to school—to earn a degree. Attending Harvard for two years and then dropping out because it wasn’t a good fit is worth much less than graduating from a small liberal arts college not one has heard of. The point is this: if you don’t think you’ll be able to complete the degree at any specific institution, you should think twice about applying there. Do some research on graduation rates at the colleges on your list. The lower the number, the riskier the investment.

What Is the Actual Cost of Attendance?

Speaking of investments, you need to have a plan for how you are going to pay for your education, and that means knowing the full cost of attendance. If College A has lower tuition costs but a higher cost of living (i.e. room and board) than College B, your budget will be more manageable at College B. Also research what types of scholarships each college offers to each class. Some institutions will make scholarships more competitive or lower their availability as you move from Freshman to Senior year.

What Opportunities for Experience Does It Offer?

Depending on the career you choose to pursue, you may need more than your degree to land a job upon graduating, Most, if not all, colleges offer internships or partner with companies and other organizations to give their students real-world experience, but not all offer the same quality of experience. Look for special programs that show concrete results for their students.

What Are My Priorities?

Finally, you have to decide what your priorities are in choosing a school. For instance, if a school were to offer great courses with highly-rated professors, could you live without a vibrant social scene? How important is location to you? Only you know what you want to get from your college education, so spend a little time researching the different experiences that others have had. Talk to friends and family members who have gone through the process, talk to our college admissions experts, or call the school and ask to speak to a student representative.

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