How I Decided Where To Apply to College

Student, Judge Memorial Catholic High School

Jan   2016



With well over 4,000 colleges in the United States alone, deciding where to apply can be a truly daunting task. In my experience, the best way to decide is to:

  • Start early
  • Decide what’s important to you in a school
  • Research like crazy
  • Narrow down the list (with help)

As early as sophomore year of high school, begin seriously thinking about college. I didn’t really start the process until late junior year, and I think starting earlier would’ve saved me a lot of time and stress!

First, you need decide what’s important to you in a college. After all, you’ll be spending the next four years of your life there, and the people you meet and experiences you have could really impact your future. As I embarked on my college search, I came up with my own “filters.” Think criteria like academic/major programs, campus location and size, and student life. I had to get picky to narrow down my list; things like accessibility to the outdoors, a health-conscious campus, and a quirky community became important indicators for me as I finalized my list.

A fun way to start your college search is to look at lists. Come up with a few things that are important to you: maybe it’s sports or music or a beautiful campus. There are a million and one college lists online and on CollegeXpress that will help you find a starting point. For example, say you really want your school to have a good engineering program. Just Google “best college engineering programs,” and you’ll find all sorts of lists to help you jump-start your search.

With something like location, you can really narrow down a lot of schools all at once. Think about where you’ve been and where you want to go: are you a West Coast person, an East Coast person, or neither? Do you feel more comfortable and happy in cities, suburban areas, or rural places? For me, I knew I wanted to be near a city—but not completely immersed in it. Decide what’s important to you location-wise but keep an open mind about great schools that might not be in what you consider your ideal location. If you’re planning on staying in state, consider how close to home you want to be.

In my opinion, campus size can also really impact your college experience. If you’re all about the big university feel with large classes, go for the 15,000 or more undergrads range! If smaller classes and the possibility of a tighter knit feel excite you, check out schools with 5,000 undergrads and under. I found that size really helped me narrow down my choices.

I used websites like CollegeXpress, Unigo, Niche, and College Confidential to do more research about the ins and outs of life at the school. Campus visits also helped me understand what life would be like as a student.

As you embark on your college search and narrow your list, don’t forget to have plenty of conversations with family, friends, alumni, and teachers. Their opinions can be invaluable as you decide where to apply. Best of luck, and one more time: start the search early!

Related: College Planning Timeline for High School Students 

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Madison Reid

Madison Reid, a wannabe poet and chef from Salt Lake City, is a senior in high school who's fascinated with and engaged in the college search. She loves writing, music, taking amature photos, blogging, bad TV shows, people, and learning.