When it comes to making a “list” of where you’ll apply, it can be hard to figure out what’s the best way to go about it. Obviously one option is just to apply everywhere you’re remotely interested in and see what comes back. But this is your journey – and you should use it as a chance to learn about yourself and what you’re looking for. Narrowing down your college list can force you to decide where you could actually see yourself going to school. Not sure how to go about it? I’ve put together a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.


Dream bigger. Instead of dreaming about a college, dream about YOU.

A dream school is an infatuation, like a crush. And crushes fade. Especially when you realize that it is essentially just another school. And of course, a crush is one-sided, which means the possibility of rejection is always there. And it’s just good to keep that in mind. It’s not that you shouldn’t have big dreams. You definitely should. You just shouldn’t have only one. So many schools are dreamy. If you do have a dream school “crush,” list out all the reasons why you love it and use THAT as your college wish list to find other schools that meet a lot of the same criteria – because that makes it about the dream YOU, not dream U. Lots of schools are out there for Dream You, I promise!


Buckle up for safety schools.

A safety school is generally one where you’re pretty much guaranteed admission (like the top 6% rule for some in state schools). It’s essential to have safety schools, because they can take a lot of the pressure off the rest of the admissions process. Even better is that you can usually apply early to these schools and hear back fairly quickly. Then you free yourself up to focus on other applications, all the while knowing you have a great fallback option should you need it. No matter what your college list looks like, some safety schools should be on it. It’s just good sense. You’re college bound no matter what. Make sure you get in.


Expect a reality check.

A lot of students grow up in a secluded environment. In their high school, they’re the star. The best at everything. But the real world is very big and there are a lot of talented people out there. So sometimes, applying to college is the first time that students like you have had to acknowledge this fact and adjust expectations for college admissions accordingly. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try for the schools you really want. But you’ve got to realize that many schools are crazy hard to get into for everyone. It’s nothing personal. And it’s also not a formula you’ll be able to figure out.


Campus visits are critical.

One of the best ways to narrow down your list is with visits. Actually going to a campus will give you a feel for what it’s like to be a student there in actuality as opposed to figuratively. Sometimes you’ll visit a campus and know instantly that it’s not for you. Sometimes you might visit a school that you hadn’t really been considering only to fall in love with the campus, city, vibe, or all three. And both of those responses are invaluable information. If you’re looking for more about what a college visit should look like, don’t worry – I’ve got a whole blog post on that one too. Check it out (college visit blog). I’ve also got an app that’ll help guide you when you actually get to campuses (www.collegevizzy.com).