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Making Your First (Serious) College List

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Let's say you want a small college not too far from home. You want to major in biochemistry and play volleyball. Now what?

If you search for colleges using your priorities, you are bound to find a number of appealing candidates. Naturally, your list will change as you learn more about colleges—and yourself.

Your Academic Goals Are Always Your First Priority

Since you are going to college to learn, your academic goals come first. So your goal is to identify colleges that have your major—or can help you explore broadly before you choose a major. In either case, you will probably find many colleges that meet your academic goals. So your next task is to narrow the field.

What Else Do You Want?

If you have one or two other features you passionately desire, make them your second and third priorities. These might be location, size, or any number of other college qualities.

  • If there are no college features that you strongly prefer, pick three that you like. Your preferences will become clearer as you find out more about colleges.
  • Look at CollegeData's Facts on Fit articles to see the many ways colleges differ from one another. Some of those differences might become very important to you.

How to Find College Matches

Start searching for colleges that have your highest priority requirement using a college search tool like College Search. It allows you to select a college feature and find all the colleges that share that characteristic. Your goal is to find about 20 colleges to research further.

Expand the Field by Broadening Your Search

If you don't find enough colleges, you may need to broaden your requirements. For example, you could change your major search to biological sciences instead of biochemistry. You might also find more colleges by starting your search with your second priority. You could then see which colleges most closely meet your academic requirement.

Narrow the Field Using Your Lower Priorities

If you find more than 20 colleges with your top-priority feature, search again including your second priority. Let's say your second priority is location. You would narrow your list to only those colleges at or near the location you want. If the list is still too long, narrow the list using your other lower priorities.

Find Out More About the Colleges On Your List

Once you have narrowed the list to about a dozen colleges, you can concentrate on learning more about them and putting some of them on your application list. At this point, you should also consider practical factors such as your likelihood of admission and financial aid. Our article Narrowing Down Your College List can help you with this process.

It's As Much About Learning As It Is About Finding

The more you research colleges, the more you will find out what appeals to you and what does not. During the search phase don't be afraid to change your mind about what's important and to modify your search. It'll be a piece of cake because, after all, you are becoming a college search expert!

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