What Colleges Should I Apply To?

We made this quiz because we believe every college applicant deserves some clear answers about the basic (but daunting) questions of the college application process. You might be asking yourself, what colleges should I apply to, or, how do I narrow down my college list?  

It’s important to not just apply to every college that comes across your radar. It takes time and energy to research a school and really understand if it’s a strong fit for you. But this research does pay off, because it allows you to focus only on colleges that authentically appeal to you, and explore the specific reasons why you feel a connection. If you apply to too many schools, the quality of each of your applications is bound to suffer. Plus, it’s likely that you won’t be genuinely excited to attend every school on your list. 

That’s why it’s always worth investing time upfront to assess your best fits before committing to particular applications. You can use this tool to double check your answer to an important and enduring question: should I or should I not apply to a certain college?

Making a College List

The college admissions process can be confusing and overwhelming, which sometimes makes it incredibly hard to sit down and actually develop a shortlist of schools you’re excited about. But you will need to make some hard decisions in order to arrive at a manageable list—there are a huge number of excellent programs out there, but you can’t apply to them all.

A great way to start thinking about your shortlist is by creating a list of the qualities you are looking for in your schools. There are many different factors that can influence what makes an undergraduate program right for someone, including how much it costs, if you have a clear career path in mind for after you graduate, and the unique aspects of a given program. Generally, though factors like your financial situation may be outside of your control, you can categorize your different preferences based on whether they are academic, personal, or cultural. Academic reasons to apply could include specific curriculum elements, particular facilities or labs, professors with shared interests, specialized courses, unique study abroad opportunities, institutions or centers on campus, research funding, and ongoing research projects. Personal reasons might be about size, location, or family and friends. Cultural factors, like the campus vibe, professional connections, values of the student body, and traditions might be hugely consequential for some but not as important for others.

But when listing preferences at this stage, be generous: if you’re at all interested in applying to a college, add it to your list. Your initial list might well include schools that have been recommended to you by others, or that you’ve heard of but don’t know much about. Work on creating a broad list, and don’t worry too much about eliminating choices. 

When you are satisfied that you’ve captured many ideas, you can start crossing options off. That’s exactly where our quiz comes in handy. 

How the Quiz Works

To make the application decision as easy as possible for students who may be overwhelmed by options, we took common starting points—such as the source from which you learned about a school, and your level of knowledge about the school’s programs—and built questions around that information. 

Before you start the quiz, pick one single school to assess. Fix the school in your mind, and begin to answer the prompts. Please note that no one is assessing your responses to these questions and it’s important that you provide your most honest answer at each stage. Don’t select the option you think you should pick, or the one that looks better. Pick the one that really sums up your situation or feelings more accurately.

Sit down with your list and run some of the schools through the questions. By the end of a few sessions, you will have great advice on where to go next—whether that be advice to remove a choice completely, or suggestions for further research.

Finding your “fit”

After you’ve reduced your first list using our quiz, you’ll need to put in the extra steps of research that will tell you whether you’ve found your fit in a given program. This is a vitally important step, and it is also one of the hardest. 

When assessing your best-fit schools, consider your past experiences, present engagements, and plans for the future. You should frame these in the context of your personal or leisure activities, your social activities, and the big, challenging pursuits that are forming your ambitions. Only through first analyzing yourself will you be able to determine what criteria matter most to you for your college experience.

If you’re most excited by the intellectual and scholarly opportunities you can explore on campus, let these interests lead your decision-making process. Create shortlists of professors you’d be thrilled to study with, research groups you want to work in, facilities or equipment you want to use, and academic skills or knowledge areas you would like to build. 

If you’re more excited by the idea of being part of a particular campus community or culture, this can be another powerful way to make smart decisions about your fit schools. Dig into campus traditions, student vlogs/blogs, clubs and organizations, and how the school frames its own value systems from an institutional perspective. In particular, seek to have conversations with others who have attended or are attending that college. Dig into their memories of both the best times and worst times in the college years.

You may also be eager to gain access to a professional network and launch yourself into an exciting career path. Beyond alumni talks and events, look into how active various groups are on social media, and which firms or organizations students have worked with recently. Can you get a stronger sense of the role you want to play in the industry you are targeting through the college’s content? Do you see strong rationale in connecting the skills you gain on campus to those sought by employers in the college’s broader ecosystem?

Finally, it’s important to consider how distinctive parts of a college’s identity or curriculum could work particularly well for you as a learner and person. Universities like Brown, or Liberal Arts Colleges like Harvey Mudd or Colorado College, for instance, are fiercely proud of their unique approaches to the undergraduate academic experience. If you’re applying to a school like one of these, go beyond the surface-level excitement that countless other students will share. Really envision yourself in that lifestyle. What parts will empower you to become even better? What parts might pose challenges that you’d have to overcome? Answering these with specific details will help you prove to such colleges that you are intent on developing your own education in a way that aligns with their core values. 

Background

The idea for this quiz was born through numerous conversations and work sessions with students. We noticed that students and their families often had difficulty determining which schools would be right for them, especially with multiple streams of input—from friends at school, to guidance counselors, to relatives, everyone feels the urge to weigh in on the college search. It’s great to have this support system and pool of information, but it can also be overwhelming. This online quiz is our way to help all college seekers evaluate what is really important about their post-high school plans, and get insight into how they can expand their opportunities to match their goals.


Did you know….

The Menlo Coaching team includes people who have taught at UC Berkeley, Stanford and Cambridge and know a lot about top undergraduate programs. They bring their expertise into our signature approach, combining a suite of proven techniques with fresh insight into the college admissions process to provide a select cohort of students with exceptional coaching.

Ready to jump in?

If you want to work with a dedicated consultant who’s proud to deliver the best sides of college admissions assistance for every family, get in touch. We’re excited to meet you, swap stories with you, and guide you through a transformation. To save your spot, contact us today at [email protected] or for more information see Menlo Coaching College Admissions.