The Secret to Narrowing Down Your College List

May 10, 2016

Narrowing down your college list is a really difficult task, especially when you don’t really know where to start. But that’s okay- there is no right answer or right approach to finding out which schools you should apply to. You may have already prioritized location, or school size. Whatever it is, start from there, and work your way through it. With some bumps along the way, you’ll find the perfect school for you. Well, at least that’s how these Stanford students did it:


Class of 2015

I did not want to apply to any school within a 200 mile radius. If you can afford it financially, college is a great opportunity to live in a different culture; the US has SO many diverse communities that you might as well use this opportunity to learn about another place! What’s the point of college except to get an education? And if you ask college graduates what was the best part of their education, they’re very likely to say “the people.” So go somewhere different. 


My college counselor presented me with these criteria: location, size, price, academics, prestige/future job opportunities, extracurricular opportunities, range of majors that interest you, flexibility in majors, and fun. Not necessarily in that order, mind you, but consider all of them when applying! For me, I always wanted to live in California, but I enjoyed the East Coast as well. All schools I applied to (with one exception) ended up on the West Coast. Academic strength, size (closeness w/ professors and students), and flexibility were all similar in the schools I applied to.


Class of 2016

Stanford: I went to a summer program at Stanford (EPGY) the summer before my senior year and loved it. I loved the campus and the Stanford students I met there. That pretty much made me super into the idea of getting into Stanford. Plus, it’s generous financial aid were draws for me. UC Berkeley and UC San Diego: I was also enamored with coastal California - it was close to Arizona, my home state. However, I didn’t properly weigh in was the importance of financial aid. California’s budget was tight, and they weren’t about to give me a lot of money! UChicago: I have family in Chicago. Plus, they give the most generous aid in the country, I think. University of Arizona: It was far enough from and close enough to home, and it was better than any other school in Arizona, according to rankings.


Class of 2019

The main factor in choosing colleges to apply to was financial aid. I live in California, so the most affordable choices were UCs. I also applied to other schools that provided scholarships for National Merit Finalists. I applied to Stanford as a reach, but wasn’t expecting to get in or even afford it. The final cost was significantly more than a UC, but it was reasonably affordable. Besides that, I chose top-ranked schools with good engineering departments since that was my main focus.


Class of 2019

Location was initially a huge factor for me. Then I stopped and thought about it, and I realized location doesn’t matter as long as you’re surrounded by hardworking, interesting, clever, funny people. That really opened up my search. I made sure I would be happy going to even at my “safety schools”. Don’t apply anywhere you wouldn’t consider going to if you got in! If you know what you want to do, find schools that are the best in those fields. If you don’t know what you want to do, apply to schools that generally have a good overall program.

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About The Author

Frances Wong
Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


Browse Successful Application Files

Stanford ‘21

Accepted to Stanford

A Questbridge Match and an aspiring engineer who plans to solve global issues using business, law, politics, and, of course, science.
Stanford ‘21

Accepted to Stanford, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley

My spirit animal is Pikachu (that is, a math/science, politics-loving Pikachu!)
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, GA Tech, BC, UCLA

I was originally born in China, and came to the United States at the age of 2. In my free time, I enjoy playing video games, frisbee, and archery!
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, UC Davis

I am a Frosh at Stanford studying studying engineering (computer science or other types) with a (possible) minor in the humanities. Go Trees!!!

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