How To Pick Which Colleges To Apply To

Group of students working on laptop in classroom
Group of students working on laptop in classroom

By Caroline Finnegan

The right college should fit you just like your favorite pair of jeans. If you’re comfortable and feel great, it will enhance your best features. Many collegiettes would agree that picking the school for them would have been a whole lot easier with a few, easy-to-follow dos and don’ts. With all the fantastic schools out there, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with all the choices. Take a deep breath, we’re here to help.

DON'T be intimidated to apply to schools.

"There were plenty of schools I wanted to apply to as a senior, but I heard they only accepted students that had tons of resume builders like building houses abroad or getting published," says Jackie from MU Ohio.

Many seniors are scared of applying to certain schools because of their reputation.

Susan Weiss, college counselor at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in Chicago, Ill., says, "A common misconception is that you have to have had grandiose high school experiences to get into certain schools. People get wrapped up in the fact that they haven’t done anything extraordinary and they get down on themselves quickly. They forget that they’re just a kid." Don’t psyche yourself out of applying or put yourself down. Sometimes having good grades or a great application is all it takes.

DO apply to multiple safety schools.

“I only applied to one college my senior year of high school because my grades and ACT score guaranteed I would be accepted. Something went wrong with my application process, and I ended up having to reapply. I was lucky that it was Early Decision because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to enroll in the fall semester,” says Ally from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Even if you’re 190 percent positive that you’re going to be accepted to the school of your choice, do yourself a favor and apply to a few other schools as safeties. However, don’t just apply to schools for the sake of having a fallback. Find a school that you would be happy at, even if it’s not as competitive. "I don’t believe that a safety school is a school that you can get in to, it’s a school that you want to go to," says Weiss.

DON’T write a school off based on its tuition price.

“The price tag for SMU was steep for my parents because they were putting two other kids through school at the same time. I applied for financial aid and ended up being able to attend my dream school,” says Alexandra from Southern Methodist University.

Your options for choosing the right school are endless; don’t let the price tag of a university limit your decision. If a school seems too expensive, check out financial aid options, scholarship offerings, or the possibility of taking out a loan. Because of financial aid, a school with a huge sticker price could end up being the most affordable. Some schools have amazing financial aid. If you qualify, it can even be cheaper to attend than your state school.

DO consider the location of your potential school.

“I applied mainly to schools in the Midwest because I live in Iowa. I liked the idea of only being a short car-ride away from home. I’m able to go home some weekends to relax or see friends, and I can spend every holiday with my family,” says Lizzie from the University of Iowa.

Location is a huge factor when it comes to choosing the right school. Instead of just distance, also consider what’s nearby your school. Will you be bored in a rural area, or will you feel too claustraphobic in a big city? Ask yourself, do I want a city environment or a small town? Do I want to be near a beach, or mountains? Things to also consider: the cost of a plane ticket home for breaks or if you’ll have a car at school.