Too Many Choices: Understanding Where to Apply to College

December 02, 2015

Ah, December. The smell of fall and pumpkin spice is coming to an end, but you probably wouldn’t know that firsthand because you’re indoors, frantically trying to finish your college applications as soon as possible. Most high school students, by August, have their university/college picks neatly sorted into categories like “reach”, “match”, and “safe” schools, and know every tiny detail about each one, like each’s financial aid information. If you’re the procrastinating type, however, you likely scrambled to assemble this infamous list all the way up until mid-September, and are still randomly adding universities as you apply (like plenty of students out there). Most of us were anxious wrecks when it came to college applications, but we do have some advice for those still choosing where to apply and potentially spend the next four years of their lives.

Never pick all your universities based on cost.

Universities have tons of money to give away, and you never know whether you qualify for some type of institutional aid. People close to you might try very hard to drive you down the path of the most cost-efficient school, but that’s not always the best choice for everyone. Choose a few schools that will fall under your budget, but, for the most part, pick the colleges where you think you would fit in best; money is an issue best left for January’s FAFSA.

Never pick all your universities based on your grades, either.

You may be a C student with phenomenal extracurriculars and test scores or a well-rounded A student. Either way, you’re what universities are looking for. Don’t rule yourself out of highly selective universities, and don’t judge and/or choose universities based on their acceptance rates. Grades are only a part of your application; if they aren’t the strongest, make sure you show universities that your other facets shine even brighter. Ultimately, the best advice is to let the school make the decision for you - everyone has reach schools. Instead of making the decision to deny yourself, make your application great and force the university to take a closer look.

If your intended major is a highly specialized one, look for schools that offer other types of majors in addition to the one you are looking for.

I cannot stress this enough. You may know what you want to do for the rest of your life in high school, but there is a very high possibility of you changing this once you get to college after actually assessing the options you have. As of now, Astronomy or Astronautical Engineering is my intended major, but during my application process, I came very close to applying to specialized schools that only offer engineering majors. I didn’t take into account the fact that I may change my mind. While transferring is always an option, it’s a risky one that might not play out. If you expect changes and apply accordingly, you will give yourself more options.

A university higher up on the ranking list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you.

The number of my classmates that picked their colleges solely off of rankings was astounding. Yes, Harvard is an Ivy League college and is academically challenging, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a mutual fit between you and the university. Analyze yourself: do you do better in high-pressure environments? With a large social circle? Up in the northeast? In the south? The most honest way to determine this is to visit the campus - but in the unfortunate case you are absolutely unable to visit, your best bet is to try to talk to current students online, read their admissions blog, watch their student-made YouTube videos, or generally try to grasp what kind of a school it is and whether it’s right for you.

These rules aren’t set in stone, however. Circumstances may change, but the general idea most likely won’t. With these tips now in your arsenal, go forth and choose. But if you’ve picked appropriately and filled out the application to the best of your ability, the university will reciprocate your choice by choosing you.

Written by one of our AdmitSee interns, Neeharika! Want to contribute to our blog? Email with your ideas. For a more in-depth internship, contact for details. If you’re still applying to schools, that’s okay - visit our database of accepted profiles to find essays, advice, and more from students who got in where you want to go.

Browse Successful Application Files

Fordham ‘20

Accepted to American, Fordham, Skidmore, Syracuse, UC Irvine, UCSB

Hi there! I went to an American school in Hong Kong from K-12 and will be starting my freshman year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall. If you're interested in theater and come from overseas, I would be of particular help to you!
Notre Dame ‘20

Accepted to BU, Emory, Swarthmore, Notre Dame

Hello! I'm an international student from Ethiopia and I'll be majoring in Biology. I'd love to share all the tips and tricks I've learned from my rather unique college application experience with you!
Columbia ‘19

Accepted to Columbia

I'm a student at Columbia. I love writing, activism, terrible jokes, and binge-watching Netflix. Aspiring PhD students/teacher.
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, Wheaton, Pomona

I love languages, exercising, and eating!

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