Help Narrowing Down my College List

Hi I’m a high school junior from Arizona! This is my first time posting so I apologize if I format anything incorrectly. I have a lot of schools on my list and I would really appreciate any advice on narrowing it down. It is definitely extremely top heavy, which is my biggest problem currently. I plan on majoring in psychology in college and $45,000 or less for tuition would be ideal. I really love small liberal arts colleges and I like schools with an open curriculum but a core curriculum does not bother me. I strongly dislike schools with a lot of Greek life so please let me know if any of these schools have that. Thank you so much!

4.0 uw gpa and 4.8 weighted
1410 sat
4/700 class rank
I’m in the IB program and I take the most rigorous course load offered at my school

President of NHS
President of French Club and I will be organizing/implementing French Honor Society for my school next year
Created a psychology blog
Research with a psych professor this summer
Two psych summer programs
In response to covid I created a digital peer tutoring program for my district (I’m very interested in developmental psych so I love learning about learning)
VP of a mentoring club at school
Volunteering for my public library
Academic Decathlon Award
Poem Published in a journal
School award

College List:
Princeton University
Pomona College
Brown University
Swarthmore College
Amherst College
Williams College
Colby College
Middlebury College
Wesleyan University
Haverford College
Vassar College
Colgate University
Lafayette College
Reed College
Occidental College
Connecticut College
Dickinson College
Whitman College
Whittier College (legacy)
Bard College
Wheaton College (ma)
University of Arizona (my school requires we apply to an in-state school)

Keep Vassar, Wesleyan and Connecticut College. They match your criteria well.

Pitzer may offer a more interesting psychology program than Pomona, and may represent your best fit from the Claremonts.

Amherst and Brown offer notably flexible curricula. For colleges with similar flexibility, look into Smith (if female), Hamilton (from which B. F. Skinner graduated) and Grinnell.

You might prefer Bates to Colby.

The Greek life at Lafayette and Colgate would be unlikely to appeal to you.

As a general suggestion, consider refining your list (which may include additions), rather than simply narrowing it.


You say you would prefer paying less than $45K per year and most of the schools you list are really expensive. Some offer only need based aid and some offer some merit aid. You need to run the NPC for the ones on your list and see if any of them end up in the range you want. The schools that use the CSS profile can calculate the family’s amount differently. If your family doesn’t qualify for need based aid, that is going to eliminate most of the schools on your list.


I am going to suggest that you aim higher based on your stated interests. Northwestern University’s SESP (School of Education & Social Policy) combines the study of psychology, economics, computer science, organizational behavior, sociology, and education. Additionally, you can participate in all of the research which you are capable of handling.

Arguably, the best school in the country / world for this innovative area of study.

Plus, you can add up to two other majors in the Weinberg School of liberal arts.

Greek life at Northwestern may change your thoughts about fraternity & sorority life. Regardless, SESP is–informally–the best co-ed fraternal organization imaginable due to the close knit, collaborative working atmosphere. It is like a small, highly energized LAC with all the advantages of a Big Ten or Ivy League university rolled into one = tremendous amount of, & incredible quality of, resources.

Better than any school on your list based on your interests & history.

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This resource can be especially convenient for estimating costs:


I do not understand why these schools are on your list:

Bard College
Colgate University
Lafayette College
Wheaton College (Massachusetts)
Whittier College
Dickinson College

I think you could dump all the schools on your list after Vassar, unless you are keeping them as safeties because they have a higher acceptance rate and/or are more affordable. If that is the reason, just keep the two you like best.

I would also do that with Amherst, Swarthmore, and Williams — pick the one you like best and drop the others. All are reach schools and you already have Ivy schools (also reaches). Applications are a lot of work, so I favor narrowing the number of reach schools rather than the shotgun approach. Some have the opinion that shotgunning increases the odds of getting into ONE reach school, but I think it also increases both the work involved and potential disappointment. Focusing on more target schools seems more productive and rewarding— just my opinion.

Also, it is difficult to find a “bargain” with LACs, so I think you should balance your list with some more affordable options. To give you some potentially better aid packages, consider looking at Honors Colleges inside of larger public universities— often, they function more like LACs inside of the larger university community (and often offer separate housing and communities— an alternative to the Greek systems at those schools). The Honors College at University of Denver would also be a cost-effective option at a school with a decent Psychology program. You might find what you like at a larger school than it would first appear on the surface.

Thank you! I used the calculator and it seems that I qualify for enough need based aid that most of them fit within my budget.


I have those on my list so I have some safeties and targets.

Thank you so much for your suggestions! I have the schools below Vassar because I think everything above is a reach for me. I definitely will remove most of the ives and I’ll be looking into University of Denver.

I did understand that they may be viewed as less than reach schools, but the schools in question do not make sense in light of your stated interests. Better to find safeties which match your interests.

Identifying a college for psychology involves some understanding of your intended long term goals (knowing that these can change).

If your interest is ultimately to pursue a PhD or PsyD, then it is important to pick a college where undergraduates are able to do research. I have 2 nieces who are currently pursuing clinical doctoral programs and both found that undergrad research was an important component of the admissions process and that their research area needed to align with research being pursued by a faculty member of the grad school to which she was applying. This would be less the case in an area like school psychology.

Psychology has developed a wide variety of areas of focus - from neuropsychology to industrial psych and everything in between. So, it’s helpful to read about the major in each college’s catalogue and look at the course selection to find the areas of emphasis at each school. In other words, the psychology major doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing at each college.


To further an interest in developmental psychology, it would be especially important for the OP to seek a department strong in supporting branches of modern psychology, such as cognitive, personality, physiological, sensory and social psychology, as well as with, as suggested, opportunities for research and field placements related to these branches.

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I don’t necessarily agree that you should limit your number of matches to reach schools to one of each type. Increasing the number you apply to increases your chance at acceptance to one of the schools.

Schools are still limiting in person campus visits so you may not want to limit your list too much because who know which of three similar schools would be the best fit for you.

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You will need an advanced degree of some sort if you plan to work as a psychologist in any capacity. You can probably study psychology at almost any undergrad college…so, perhaps consider that major in your search but also look at other school qualities that you might like (location, size, etc).

The vast majority of post undergrad psychology programs are not funded…so you might want to save some of your money to pay for grad school, if your parents agree to that.


Since you have very specific interests, I would suggest you approach this the way prospective grad students do: look for specific professors and research groups who are doing work that excites you. This will both help you to refine your options, and help you to stand out when you write your short essays on “Why X College?”

For example, here are the psych research labs at Carleton College (which is the school that comes to my mind when I read your description of what you’re looking for). Their primate lab is particularly well-respected and unusual for a small college (recognizing that feelings differ about animal research, but fwiw) Grinnell (which tends to be quite generous with both need-based and merit aid) has a Child Development Studies program within the psych department: Child Development Studies Program | Grinnell College

Also, I agree with Merc81 that if you like Pomona, you should consider Pitzer too, and also Scripps if you’re female. You can take virtually all of the same classes from any of them, although major requirements may be structured differently at each.

Some of your schools also have cognitive science majors, which would roll in more neuroscience, computer science, and linguistics with the psychology - an option to consider if you would enjoy a more interdisciplinary approach. (It can open up options to work in fields like UX and natural language processing, if that appeals.) OTOH, if you know you want to pursue a clinical path, look for schools with a strong undergrad field placement program - Skidmore is one of these.

Clark would probably be a low-match/safety, but it’s particularly known for psychology and you’d be likely to get good merit.

Hopefully if you drill down to departmental specifics at each school, some of your schools will stand out from the pack and others will fall off.


So why not look local at ASU Honors Barrets program and probably go on a scholarship? Once in honors it’s small and will set you up nicely for your future. Many OOS students with your GPA are trying to get into there.


I’d recommend ASU Barrett as your safety over UA.

Clark (Leep scholarship) would be a low match.

For people with your stats, anything with a 25% acceptance rate and below is a reach, 30-40% is a match - less if you need a merit scholarship to afford it.

Run the npc on St Olaf, Denison, Dickinson.

I second the recommendations for Vassar and Clark!

Be sure to consider what type of psychology you’d enjoy studying and look at the catalog at each college: courses and professors’ interests. For example, Williams College is a great college, but its psychology department is not at all the type of psychology that would interest anyone in my particular family (my spouse is a clinical psychologist, so we have strong feelings on the subject). Arguably the best psychology oriented courses at Williams are HISTORY courses with the wonderful Professor Kohut (yes, the son of the famous psychologist Kohut!). My point being- know what attracts you to the study of psychology and make sure your college choice will match your interests.

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