When looking for a college, the word overwhelmed quickly becomes a part of one’s vocabulary. There is an endless amount of information to cypher through and it is easy to get overwhelmed and feel stuck.

When this happens, it helps to break things down. Look at concrete factors to help narrow down your college options. A few examples of these narrowing factors include:

  • Student body population
  • Distance from home
  • Public vs private
  • Religious affiliation
  • Available majors
  • Region

Please note: Do not include tuition and finances on this list. These are definitely critical factors but should be considered at a later step in the process. You never know what unexpected scholarships you may receive if you give it a shot and apply!

It is good to differentiate between narrowing factors and deciding factors. Choose three or so narrowing factors (such as the ones above) that are easy to spot on a website and high on your priority list. The schools that pass your narrowing factors test are ones that you should consider visiting and submitting an application. After these steps, things get more serious.

At this point, it is time to designate a few deciding factors. These deciding factors should take into account more information specific to you. Below are some examples, but these factors need to be completely personalized to your college search.

  • Tuition and scholarships
  • Activities, such as clubs and sports
  • Perceived community atmosphere
  • Living standards
  • Resources for your major

It is easy to get stuck on these deciding factors. Use them to prevent overwhelming yourself but still be open-minded. Apply to, or at least visit, a few schools that are way out of your parameters. Whether that means applying to a school across the country, quadruple your ideal size, or just plain different from what you envisioned, there is value is expanding your perspective.

As this process unfolds, remember that it is just as important to know what you do not want as what you do want. You will be surprised how quickly a manageable list will form itself. As you transition to the next phase of the decision-making process, it is important to have a single, organized place to store and compare information.

A spreadsheet can be useful. Rating each aspect of each school can make your choices that much more obvious. If spreadsheets aren’t your thing, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to compare information. You could have a cork board with logos and pictures, or even just a basket to gather all the letters and pamphlets.

The most important part of this process is making sure it is tailored to you. No one makes decisions the same as the next person. What worked for a friend or sibling may not work for you. Understanding your unique decision-making process can help you find your college. This decision is important, and the process of designating, narrowing, and deciding factors can relieve much of the pressure. Embrace each phase to help avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Written by: Abbie Russell (’21)