Though the ease and convenience of the Common App can make it tempting to apply to as many schools as possible, remember that each school has its own fees and required documents for the application process.

Sticking to a list of schools that all meet your needs will make the college application process a lot more manageable. To make your list, think about what’s important to you in terms of location, size and cost, and visit several schools to get a sense of the type of campus you’d prefer. Then, answer the following questions.

1. Are the Schools on My List Varied in Terms of Selectivity?

Narrow your list down to 6 to 10 schools that best align with your educational goals and academic profile. Having a varied list will give you more options when choosing which school to attend. Compare yourself to the average admitted student at each of the schools you’re considering, and aim to categorize them using the following as a guide:

  • 2–3 Safety Schools: Your test scores and grades are above the average student’s, so you’re fairly sure you’ll get in.
  • 3–4 Target Schools: Your academic profile and extracurricular activities are similar to the average student, so there’s a reasonable chance you’ll be admitted.
  • 1–2 Reach Schools: The typical student at these schools has a stronger résumé and academic profile than you, but there’s a chance the school will accept you.

2. How Will I Pay for This School?

As tuition and other college expenses continue to climb, it’s become increasingly important to factor cost into your decision. Use each school’s net price calculator to get a sense of how much you’d actually have to pay after receiving a financial aid package. Then you can make a plan for how you’d cover those costs, via savings, grants, scholarships, student loans, and other sources to determine whether it’s realistic for you.

3. What Type of School Do I Want to Attend?

There are big differences between liberal arts colleges and universities. Liberal arts colleges tend to have smaller class sizes, preparing students with a broad education that develops skills like critical thinking and communication. Compared to universities, there tend to be fewer extracurricular clubs and athletics, but the smaller class sizes provide more individualized attention to students. Public and private universities offer a larger variety of courses and often more career-focused classes for industry-specific skills. When deciding what type of school is ideal for you, consider the type of learning environment you’d thrive in.

4. How’s the School’s Reputation in My Potential Field?

If you already have a good idea about the career path you’ll take after graduation, you’ll want to look for a school that’s known in your industry as a good source for hiring interns and employees. Investigate whether the classes required for your major are current and if there are any notable members of the faculty.

5. What’s the Process for Switching Majors?

Even if you’re committed to a specific college major now, it’s smart to understand what the process would be like should you decide to change it later. Typically, it’s easier to switch majors at a school that has more general education courses compared to one that requires you to take more classes within your field of study.

By thinking carefully now about what kind of college experience you want and researching the potential schools, you can create a manageable list of good options. This will remove the burden of any unnecessary applications so you have the time and energy to make the most out of your senior year.

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