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 drew@admitsee.com with your ideas. For a more in-depth internship, contact oakley@admitsee.com 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

niathuravil
Rutgers ‘20


Accepted to Rutgers, NYU, Fordham, UMass, Colorado, MSU, Illinois, Arizona, Washington

Your local political astronaut with a passion for the prolific things in life.
kltaylor96
Duke ‘19


Accepted to Duke, Northwestern, Elon , William & Mary, Centre, Campbell

I am someone who always shoots for the moon so that if I miss, I will land among the stars.
littlegreentre…
Stanford ‘19


Accepted to Cambridge, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Brown, UPenn, Columbia, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Swarthmore, Barnard, Wellesley, Duke, NYU, BU

overly ambitious, passionately curious, helplessly perfectionistic
tannar2020
Stanford ‘20


Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA

Born in small town, interested in math, science, and literature. Attending Stanford University starting fall of 2016, planning on studying engineering or computer science, with a minor in a foreign language.

New Posts

10 College Interview Questions You Should Prepare For
10 College Interview Questions You Should Prepare For
November 17, 2017

Early applications are in and applicants should start preparing for the next application step: the college interview. About College Interviews First thing you should know about college interviews is that you probably won’t have...

Telluride Association Summer Program: Summer Program for Juniors
Telluride Association Summer Program: Summer Program for Juniors
November 14, 2017

Are you a highly motivated, intellectually curious high school junior? Apply to the Telluride Association Summer Program!Telluride Association Summer ProgramTelluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a free six-week summer education experience for high school...

Load More Posts