Deciding where to apply

How to decide what colleges to apply to – advice from an admission counselor

By Jenny Antonelli

How to decide what colleges to apply to – advice from an admission counselor

By Jenny Antonelli
Narrowing your list of colleges to apply to can feel like a daunting task. You will often hear people talking about a school being β€œthe right fit,” but how do you determine that?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, I’m here to help you take a step back and think about some big-picture concepts. Below are aspects of a university to keep in mind as you evaluate that fit: 

Major of choice

What are you interested in studying? Start by finding universities that offer programs you’re interested in pursuing. If you aren’t sure what you want to study, don’t sweat it. That’s what college is about—finding that path you’re supposed to take. Look for schools that have a broad curriculum, so you are able to explore a variety of subjects and have plenty of options if you change your path.


Are you looking for individualized attention from your professors or are you okay with having classes with dozens or even hundreds of other students? Search university websites to find out their average class size and student-to-faculty ratio. 


Do you want to be in a city or in a suburb? Somewhere that rallies around the university like a college town or is a metropolitan area more your style? What types of enrichment or activities does the area have to offer? 

Something else to consider in terms of location is distance. Do you want to stay close to home or are you ready to venture farther away? Do you want to be able to drive home or are you okay flying a few times a year? 

Student experience 

This topic goes hand in hand with location. What types of activities are you looking to be a part of on campus? Are you interested in big college sports? Greek life? What types of clubs and organizations are you planning on joining? Many schools provide a full list of student groups on their student affairs site.


Take a look at requirements for schools. See what their GPA and test scores averages are for admitted students. This is typically called a First-Year (or Freshman) Class Profile. Do you fall within their ranges? Make a list of schools you are highly interested in and within your reach, while keeping some safety schools in mind. 

In recent year, many schools have adopted a test-optional policy. If you’re not confident in your test scores, consider those schools.


These topics should help you arrive at a solid list. To narrow your list even further: 

  • Make connections. If possible, find someone you know who attends the school or make a connection with a current student to see what their true experience is like. Admission counselors are also a great source of information because it’s their job to know about all aspects of the institution. Look for opportunities to schedule time to speak with the person assigned to your area to learn more.
  • Plan a visit. It’s not always possible to step foot on campus before applying, but if you have the opportunity to visit a few schools, make a note of which campus you feel most comfortable on. I know it sounds cliché, but most students will tell you they got that “warm and fuzzy feeling” when they visited the school they ended up attending. If you can’t visit in person, take advantage of the virtual campus tour most schools have on their websites.
  • Think long term. While your four years of college will create some of your favorite memories, college is also meant to direct you toward your future career. Which schools have a solid foundation, whether it’s through their career center or other resources on campus, to help you chart that path?

Now that you have a list of things to consider, it’s time to enjoy the process! Start early so you have plenty of time to think about it. People in your inner circle will help steer you in the right direction, but remember, it’s ultimately your decision as it will be the place where you will study, live, and make friendships that will last a lifetime! Good luck!