How do I narrow down my college search?

I currently have a list of about 50 possible schools that I could attend. I want to narrow the list down but I don’t want to have to do in depth research for 50 schools but I also dont want to choose a single factor like location and cut out a really good school just because of one factor. Any tips of effectively narrowing down the schools without risking missing out?

Start with affordability/finances. Talk with your family about what they can contribute and ask them to sit down and use the Net Price Calculator on the college board and other individual school’s sites to see the range of your family Expected Family Contribution. Is that EFC in line with what your family plans on being able to contribute? Some families discover that – much to their dismay and amazement – they are “full pay” for the purposes of calculating financial aid, but cannot possibly afford to pay $70+ k per year. That’s when merit awards become important. If merit is necessary to make the finances work, then that narrows the search considerably, because a student must be in the top quartile of students generally to qualify for merit aid.

Keep in mind that students individually are only able to borrow about $5500 in their first year, with small increases per year, and a maximum total for 4 year of $28,000. So a student cannot borrow the full cost of attending college on their own, unless perhaps they live at home and attend a public school where the tuition may be low enough.

So, start with money. Then, start to think about academic programs – are you interested in engineering, business or some other specialized degree such as journalism, that generally requires a university rather than a college (though there are smaller schools, which may offer engineering such as Union or Rose Hulman, or business, such as Bucknell). If you know you want engineering, and schools don’t offer it, they come off the list.

Other categories to consider are geography/travel and location – urban, rural, accessible to a city?

I remember my daughter having this problem. The easiest first step could be purely based on finances. Ask your parents about their college budget before going further.

Next easy way is to cut if the school doesn’t have a good department for your major.

It’s time to be ruthless. Start by eliminating the ones you really aren’t interested in, and don’t look back. Are you truly interested in Carnegie Mellon? Or is it just a name you’ve heard of? Definitely want a good sports scene? Syracuse stays on the list, NYU doesn’t. And so on.

If you genuinely think they could all be interesting, go by geography. Hate cold weather? Good bye Northeastern schools. Don’t like humidity? Good bye Florida. Hate smog? Farewell UCLA.

Still stuck? Go by size. You want a big school with plenty of people and activities? Keep Penn State on the list and axe tiny Swarthmore. Or vice versa, axe ASU and keep Pomona.

Need more whittling? You want a classic college experience. Eliminate Commuter U down the road and keep Indiana U on the list.

But wait, you want a classic LAC experience. So no Indiana U, but rather Kenyon or Colby.

You love Greek Life. Washington and Lee stays on the list, but not Bates.

I think you get the idea. Another helpful thing is to make pros and cons about each college. A quick bit of googling can help you do that.

Once you find a reason to eliminate, leave those colleges behind. Should other colleges fall by the wayside, you can revisit them later if needed. I think it’s good to have one “odd man out” college on your list. Your list doesn’t have to have all the same types of schools. I insisted my daughter apply to a “parent’s choice” school which ended up being one of her final contenders. Maybe ask your parents for a little input, if you’re feeling brave.

If you would like to state your academic interests — even if tentative — then it might be possible to offer you suggestions on ways to narrow your choices on that basis.

Agree that finances need to lead your search. This will help if you need a school that offers merit, in state, need blind etc. Not sure how you came up with your original list of 50 - but quick research would be to read about the schools in the Fiske Guide or Princeton Review guide - won’t be that time consuming and after reading about a smaller amount of your schools you will begin to understand what you like / don’t like and narrow your list for more in depth research.

I plan on majoring in Molecular Biology or Biochemistry and minoring in Psychology - the problem is these majors are so common that nearly every school has them

More information:
Thanks for all the wonderful advice!

I know my question was pretty broad so here is a list of some factors I already considered. The question is where to go from here:

I know I want a liberal school that is LGBT+ friendly, it also need to be diverse and be in a urban area. Thankfully, money isn’t really a problem for my family. I don’t care for sports or greek life and as long as the weather is lower than 80 degrees Fahrenheit i’m good. Also I absolutely refuse to go to any school in the south. I also don’t want to study abroad.

So this leaves me with pretty much any school in the Northeast and the UCLA school along with some others - I really don’t know where to go from here.

Urban narrows it down considerably, as there are not that many schools that are truly urban, as opposed to suburban with access to a city. At quick glance, that could include (though I’m sure I’m missing schools).

Burlington: Univ Vermont

Boston: BU, Northeastern.

Possibly Holy Cross or Clark in Worcester.

New York: Fordham, NYU, New School.

Philadelphia: Temple, Drexel, U Penn.

Pittsburgh: Pitt, Carnegie Mellon

DC: GW, Georgetown (American isn’t really in the “city” as I understand)

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

Cleveland: Case Western

Columbus: Ohio State

Chicago: Loyola, Depaul, University of Chicago

Minneapolis: Univ MN Twin Cities, Macalester

If by urban someone really just means, reasonable access to city but not in the city proper, then the list is indeed long, as that would add Tufts and Brandeis to Boston, Haverford to Philly, Carleton and St Olaf to Twin Cities and many others. Or, if urban means small city, then that could include Ann Arbor Michigan, Madison, Wisconsin.

Needing to be diverse, LGBTQ friendly and in an urban area narrows it down considerably. Your requirement of weather below 80 degrees, I’m assuming applies to not-summer, which most colleges aren’t. But UCLA and most others are going to be hot for about three weeks or more when you go back to college.

I see a bunch of good suggestions above, though I would not consider UVM to be urban. Lovely town and campus though. Don’t rule out the Midwest. You could add Macalester and others mentioned above to your list. When I think of diverse and LGBTQ friendly, UCLA isn’t the first college that springs to mind, though there will be diverse students there. Definitely check out Temple and Clark.

I get the sense that you are mainly considering names of colleges you’ve already heard of. If diversity and LGBTQ friendly are really important to you, you might want to consider adding some LACs to your list. Many of them are very inclusive, diverse and accepting. They offer smaller classes and lots of student/professor interaction from the outset, which enables more discussion.

Many LACs are not far from urban areas, so students can have the best of both worlds. Because students tend to be very involved in campus life, their college is where they spend much of their time. For example, at a school such as NYU or Northeastern many students spend a lot of time and money in the city, so those colleges don’t tend to have a typical “college” feel. Worth considering if that matters to you.

I would split the list by reach/match/safety. Then start filling them out. If you are looking to apply for 10 schools a mix of 4/4/2 would be good. It might be easier to pick you top schools from each group instead of ranking the whole list. If you have 20 reach schools, you don’t need to spend any time deciding if a school is #12 or #16 on the list They are not near #4 so it doesn’t matter. This also forces you to have each type of school on your list. It might contain 50 reach schools right now.

Many refine target college lists based on their academic qualifications and likelihood of being offered admission in addition to factors of cost and location and major. Refining your list should be easier as you want liberal and urban.

Why not post your list of schools with your preferences & let readers comment on them ?

Probably the first two things I would do is:

(1) Identify two safety schools. From all of the schools on your list, are there two that you are sure that you will get accepted to, and that you are sure you will be able to afford? If there are more than two, then which two safeties would you prefer to attend? It is okay if you end up with three or four safeties, but you need at least two and I do not see much point in having more than four.

(2) Take a close look at your in-state public universities. Figure out which of these would be a good fit for you.

Then for each of your other schools, ask yourself one question: Would you prefer this school to all of your safeties and to all of your in-state public schools?

Also, for biology and psychology there is a very good chance that at some point you will want to attend graduate school. It might be a good idea to both (i) avoid taking on any debt at all; and (ii) leave some college money “in the bank” for graduate school. In our case “in the bank” meant “in the 529 plan”, and both daughters did leave at least something in the 529.

I agree that there are a lot of universities that are very good for biology and psychology. There are also a lot of schools that are “LGBT+ friendly” and “diverse”.

^^This. x2.

You said that “money isn’t really a problem for my family”. Is that a polite way of saying “my parents can and will pay $70K/year for my college education” or “I have a college fund that will cover all the costs of a $250-300,000 college education”? If so, great! but if it means “my parents make a lot of money” or “my family said not to worry about it until you know what your choices are”, then you need to get more info now. Worse than not getting into a college that you really want is getting in and then finding out that you can’t afford it- and it happens every year.

The biggest gift you can give to future-you is to graduate with the least amount of post-college debt. Drs & lawyers pop on CC regularly to talk about how they are still paying off college debt 15 years after graduating. One mom made her last payment at the same time that her daughter was starting medical school.

This is the schools I am currently considering, I do realize that some of these schools don’t fit the requirements I have listed but if they are really good schools and are only missing one/two qualities I’m okay with that.

The only things that I need at a school are: LGBT+ friendly, and they have a biochem/MolBio major and psychology minor.

By lgbt+ friendly I don’t just mean that I won’t get hate crimed, I want there to be campus events and resources. Also a sizeable population of lgbt+ individuals would be nice!

Preferences are: diverse and be in a urban area (or suburb w/ access to a city), weather is lower than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, not in the south and a strong sense of community.

Wellesley College
Smith College
Wesleyan University
Carleton College
Claremont Mckenna
John Hopkins
U Rochester
Wake Forest
Boston College
Boston U
Wash U Missouri

Thanks for all the help! If anyone has any advice on schools that I should cut out based on my requirements/preferences that would help so much!!

I wasn’t too far off.

You have Cornell twice, so there’s an easy cut :wink:

Some ways to look at groupings to get you started:

Swarthmore, Vassar, UChicago are all pretty intense intellectually. Does that suit you?
Columbia & UChicago both have a very strong required “Core” Does that suit you?
Cornell, JHU, WF, UChicago all have a pretty strong “work hard” ethos. Does that suit you?
Dartmouth, WUSTL, Princeton have something of a preppy/privileged vibe. Does that suit you?
UCLA / UCB and UMi are all big state unis, but UMi has more of a ‘sense of community’
You have 4 of the 5 Claremont McKennas. Given their overlap, pick 1!
Williams exemplifies ‘remote’- why is it on your list?

Yeah most of these are reach school: I already have schools in my state that I plan on applying to such as UNC schools that are safety/matches. My parents are only willing to send me out of state for highly-selective reach schools so that’s why most of them are reaches

If you dont like hot, then why choose any Cali schools? Wake Forest might not be the most LGBTQ friendly.

If you are instate for NC, that adds another useful metric: is school X worth the extra $$ over the instate option.

WF wasn’t the most LGBTQ friendly in the past (10+ years ago), but these days the students I know there say it’s a welcoming community.

I shouldn’t add to your list, but Haverford meets all of your criteria and is quite strong in the sciences. While Villanova meets your geographic criteria, I’m not sure that it’s as LGBTQ friendly or diverse as many of the other schools on your list.