Top College List

Narrowing down your top college list

Deciding which college to attend is a key milestone in the life of a college-bound student. With thousands of possibilities to choose from, it can often be a very overwhelming task. Whether you are planning to attend a community college or an Ivy League accredited university, a variety of factors need to be considered when choosing the right school. To help make your decision easier, we will outline the steps you can take to narrow down your top college list.

Plan Ahead

It’s important not to wait until the last minute before deciding where to go to college. All too often, students wait until their senior year before they begin their college search. To help make the decision-making process feel less overwhelming, we recommend that you develp a plan early in your high school career.

The first step we recommend taking is meeting with your high school counselor early and often. Counselors serve as great resources to help college-bound students through each step of the decision-making process. They can also help you to determine which factors are most important to you so you can begin to narrow down your top college list. Some key factors to focus on include:

  • Majors available
  • Location
  • Financial aid available
  • Public
  • Private
  • Disability-friendly
  • Campus demographic
  • Housing
  • Size
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Cost
  • Religious affiliation
  • Transportation
  • Student-faculty ratio

While one factor may be of crucial importance to one college-bound student, another student may find that factor completely irrelevant. That’s why it is essential to weigh each aspect as it relates to the colleges you are exploring.

A Great Start to Creating Your Top College List

Although there are several factors which differ in importance from one person to the next, a common factor between all college-bound students is the desire to receive a high-quality college education. With thousands of colleges and universities throughout the country to choose from, putting together an accredited college list no longer means you will have to travel a great distance to find the high-quality education you seek.

A great place to start your college search is the school’s location. It is important to ask yourself certain questions before creating your top college list. Do you want to be close to home? Would you like to attend college out-of-state? Establishing answers to these questions will affect the number of available choices. To help you determine your options, use our free College Finder Tool to find the colleges and universities in your ideal location.

Another important determinant in creating your top college list is the size of the school. Colleges range in size from a few hundred students to several thousand students, and this span can make a huge difference on whether or not a student will fit in. If you are in search for an Ivy League education and only have larger schools on your accredited college list, it will be a good idea to look at the student-to-faculty ratio at those schools.

Large colleges and universities often have sizeable classrooms which make it more difficult for instructors to provide one-on-one time for their students. They also have the potential to create a culture shock for small-town college-bound students. On the other hand, students may enjoy the range of activities and diversity at larger universities. Clarifying the size of the school you desire will help to limit your options. Our specific college search tool can serve as a great resource to help you create your top college list.

Visit the Schools on Your Top College List

Once you have established which factors are most important to you and have narrowed down the schools which meet your specified criteria, it is important that you visit those schools on your top college list before making a final decision. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most out of your campus visit:

  • Contact the admissions office—Prior to your visit, be sure to contact the admissions office to notify them you will be on campus. This way, you will make the most of your visit and may even have the opportunity to meet with an admissions counselor and/or current students.
  • Observe your surroundings—On your tour, be sure to take note of your surroundings: the buildings, athletic facilities, residence facilities, location and people. The people you interact with during your tour can have a lasting impression, and may even have an impact on which school you will ultimately select from your top college list.
  • Ask questions—At some point during your visit, you will be able to ask questions which were not answered during the campus tour. Take advantage of the opportunity. The more knowledge you have about each school, the easier it will be to narrow down your top college list.
  • Take notes after the visit—After each visit, it is a good idea to take notes about what you liked and disliked about each school. Once you have experienced multiple campus visits, your notes will help to keep the pros and cons of each college straight as well as serve as a guideline for selecting your school of choice from your top college list.

The Key to Creating Your Top College List

The most important thing to remember when you begin putting together your top college list is to not procrastinate. There are several steps involved in the decision-making process, and to help make sure you don’t feel engulfed during your final year of high school, we recommend pacing yourself by taking it one step at a time.

Whether you want to focus on small or large schools, or public vs. private colleges, it is important to start taking the necessary steps toward narrowing it down as early as possible. As a junior in high school, you may not feel ready to make a final decision as to where you are going to attend college, but it’s not too early to narrow the number schools on your top college list down to four or five. Take it one step at a time, and have fun!

College-Bound Student Information

CollegeView offers an extensive amount of valuable information and resources for the college-bound student. Please follow these links to discover how our articles can help you in your choice for an educational pathway:


This article was written by Jeff McGuire


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