How to Begin Your College Search: Whittling Down the List

Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

May   2012



There are thousands of colleges in the United States, so how do you figure out where to begin your own college search? For starters, it’s best to consider these basics first:


What you plan on majoring in at college should be where you start your hunt. There are so many schools to choose from, but they are not all going to have your program. Do some research and figure out what schools have the best program for the degree field you want to enter (you can explore colleges by major with our college lists and rankings!). It will be harder to find specific programs like pharmaceutical studies, film, or graphic design. But broader majors such as communications, business, or other liberal arts majors can be found at almost any school. The best plan of action is to narrow down the list by what you want to pursue. You’re not alone if you’re undecided, though! If that’s the case, look at schools that offer a wide range of majors, particularly any that you’re interested in pursuing.


With a narrowed down list based on your field of study, you now have to consider the location of each school. Staying closer to home may be important to you if you want the option to go home on the weekends; for others seeking new scenery, out-of-state schools or even schools in a different country may be the best option. Getting the “full college experience” is defined differently to everyone; don’t allow your friends to influence your decision on where to apply--this is a personal choice. Some students may even be flexible on location, whether they have no preference, or if they’re more focused on other aspects of a college like degree options, student organizations, internship opportunities, etc.


The price for higher education is rising. Checking out the tuition for all of the schools you are interested in should be a top priority. Though financial situations vary for everyone, it is one of the most important factors when it comes time to apply. There are scholarships, loans, and financial aid to research and consider before applying. If you know you won’t be able to afford one of the schools on your list, there are ways to finance your education, but you need to prepare for that when you are filling out those applications.

With so many options of institutions out there, you have to consider your future when choosing where to apply. Once you narrow your list using basic criteria, it is then more manageable for you to look at the other options that are important to you: on-campus housing, student life, athletics, career services, and the abundance of resources offered at institutions. Where you ultimately end up going should be the school that fits all of your needs in harmony.

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About Meaghan Heffernan

Meaghan Heffernan

Meaghan is an Assistant Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, a sub-division of Carnegie Communications, where she manages data for colleges and universities in the western United States. She graduated in January 2011 from Fitchburg State University with a degree in professional writing and course concentrations in political science. Meaghan wrote for student-run newspaper The Point at Fitchburg, was an active member of the English Club, and was involved in creative writing groups. During Meaghan’s free time, she can be found working at her part-time job, reading, or spending time with her family. Her college application and admission process was a breeze, and she is hoping to make the experience just as easy and organized for future college applicants.

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