5 Steps to Narrow Down Your College Choices

‘Tis the season…that many college-bound kids, homeschooled or not, are in the midst of touring, interviewing, open-house attending, and making those final decisions about where to consider spending the next few years of life.    If truth be told, at this stage, every campus looks gorgeous.  Every university promises a unique  experience.   Those that are not very diverse find models.   In short, every effort is made to entice a prospective student–and his almighty dollar–to make a particular choice.

One of several questions, then, whether spoken or unspoken, is how to reduce the list of possibilities down to a workable, reasonable set of choices.  Though no expert in this area, I have an opinion (doesn’t everyone?  LOL)  and enough experience to hopefully help someone else who is newer to that particular phase of the journey than I am.   Here are some considerations that might help you as a parent and/or your college-bound student narrow down the many choices for higher education that are available, listed in no particular order. By the way, if you use this list earlier in the college selection process, it might actually save you a trip or two.


1) What is the experience that your child wants to have in school?   What is his/her vision for himself while at college?   This includes everything from study-abroad opportunities to painting (or not painting) his face for the big game. Does he want to study on green grass, or is a park bench more his speed?  Having this conversation is critical, as it can eliminate bigger schools, smaller schools, religious-based schools versus secular campuses, state schools versus private schools, etc.   It might also help make a case for community college as a way of introducing your child to the pace and the diversity of a college environment while still having some control influence over the experience your child has while there.  That’s a blog post in itself for another time.

2) Given the competition between for-profit and non-profit universities, online programs versus brick-and-mortar institutions, and the drive to educate traditional students (i.e., the high school kid who will transition into college) and the non-traditional student, visibility is increasingly important.   Before you make a trip to a school, consider what schools are coming to you.   What schools are visiting the area via open houses, junior/senior days, etc.,so that you don’t have to try and get to all of them?  Again, this is a cost and time saver, and it might help make a dent in the selection process.

3) For schools in weather climates that aren’t the norm for you, take that visit in the worst weather so that your kid can get a real taste of whether that weather is bearable for them.  As a personal example, we made a point, as coastal Texans who rarely see snow, of taking our children to their Midwestern college choices in the dead of winter.   It was a very different experience for all of us, but that is the point, right??

4) Before you pay tuition, can you even afford the application price?  Some apps can be $100+!! How badly does your child REALLY want to go there, because you can spend a small fortune just trying to get in.  A caveat here is that, if he scores high enough on the ACT or SAT, some schools might waive the application fee.

5) Look online for top 10 schools in whatever your child wants to study.  This could help your child narrow down his list. Be sure to look at the criteria under which the list was developed to ensure that the values and priorities upon which the list is based align with what you all are looking for in a school. 

Bonus: Monies available from any school is a post all its own, but in summary, if a school is expensive, but has lots of money to give, it might not be a deterrent.  As an example, many of the Ivy League schools offer a wealth of endowment monies to help kids who might not otherwise be able to attend.  On the other hand, if a school is expensive, and they’re expecting you to pay for it, unless you are financially prepared for that, might be a factor in trimming your list.  Also check into scholarships and grants available through the school.   I have more on that in my “8 Steps to Consider Now if College is Later” blog post, listed below.

My list is not comprehensive.   There are many other considerations, including testing requirements (especially if your child is not a good test taker), college alumni (does the school have a record for graduating anyone of significance in your child’s area of study), and even proximity of relatives, if your student’s being close to someone you know is a criteria.

Here are a few other articles, including older blog posts of my own, that might help you with narrowing down the many options that are available to you:

Using the good ol’ paper college catalog in this technological age

8 steps for right now for the college-bound kid

Documenting your unschool experience to appeal to a college admin

Enjoy the journey!

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