The list of colleges you apply to will make the biggest difference in how much you actually end up paying for college. Think about it in the most simplistic terms, your local community college is going to be a lot cheaper than Harvard or Stanford.
The problem is that most people don’t create their college list with affordability in mind. And unless you’re willing to pay the full cost of college, this can be an expensive mistake.
Even if finances aren’t a primary consideration, most people don’t do a very good job of creating a college list.
There Are Over 1,500 Four-Year Colleges
They struggle to come up with colleges to add to the list. Beyond the colleges popular in their local community and those that appear in national rankings, most families aren’t familiar with a lot of different schools. And there’s a natural reluctance to add a school that you have never heard of to your list.
So most lists are some combination of colleges you already know, some pulled from the rankings, and a few recommended by family or friends.
And there’s the worry that if you add another school, you’re going to go over a “limit” of what is an acceptable size. So if you add University X, you feel like you need to drop College Y.
Through this entire process, chances are that you never seriously consider more than 20 or 30 colleges.
Given that there are more 1,500 four-year colleges out there, this means that you’ve probably missed some amazing opportunities.
Start Big and Then Narrow
This is why I believe that the key to creating a smarter college list is to start with many colleges and narrow the list.
Part of this is psychology. If you believe that there are 5 must have qualifications for a college to appear on your list, it’s only natural to feel like you’re somehow “settling” when you ease a restriction to expand your list.
It’s also harder than you think to search on specific criteria. Just go and try to search on a preferred size range or test scores at some of the more popular college search websites and see what happens.
It’s Easier to Drop Colleges than Add Them
So why not start with a big list? Granted, you already know that a certain number of the colleges won’t meet all of your qualifications. But you also have to open yourself to other opportunities you may have never considered.
By starting as broad as possible, you have to think about what are the truly minimal requirements to consider a school.
If you’re looking for a method that will unequivocally rank one school higher than another, this probably isn’t it. The simple reality is that not everything of value can be measured.
If you’re looking for a way to expand your college list to include legitimate possibilities you haven’t previously considered, this process will work for you. Use the form below to download the “7 Steps to a Smarter College List” for free.