In this chapter, we've put together some suggestions for how to turn your research and knowledge about what you're after and what colleges you're considering into a list of colleges where you're going to apply.
Compare and Contrast
Using your ideal college profile--which has probably changed somewhat during your research--and all the material you've gathered about various colleges, you should take some time to compare and contrast your potential choices. The number of colleges you evaluate will vary depending on your individual circumstances and needs. But at this point, you should probably have at least ten so that there is room to discard some. As a general rule, if you have more than fifteen, try to eliminate some by doing a bit more thinking and research.
First, I looked at schools based on my major and then I started narrowing it down--I originally had thirty schools. Then, I did the next cut using special services as my guideline. This brought it down to ten. Location was the next thing. Being in theater, I didn't feel that going to a school out in the middle of nowhere was the best thing for me. I ended up looking at schools around Chicago and New York and that pretty much narrowed it down to six.
A great way to make comparisons is to put together a simple chart. We've included one as an example. In the left column, list the college characteristics that are important to you. (Use your ideal college profile!) Across the top row, list the colleges you're considering. In the appropriate space, simply check below any college that satisfies that particular characteristic. If you want to go a step further, you can use numbers instead of check marks to create a ranking system. Use numbers from 0 to 3, with 3 satisfying a given point completely, 2 satisfying it fairly well, 1 satisfying it somewhat, and 0 not satisfying it at all.
As you fill out your chart, you may find that you have some holes or just don't know how to rank a school in terms of a certain characteristic. This could mean you need to do some more research. Or it may be that this particular area is no longer that important to you.
Even if a college scores high overall but has a quality you know you can't stand, it probably shouldn't make it on your final list. Likewise, if there is something you can't live without, colleges lacking that quality aren't those where you should apply. Be reasonable and realistic when considering what you can and can't live without, but know that this is a great way to prioritize.
As time went on, eliminating schools became easier. During my junior year, I realized that I loved French more than anything else I studied. I started eliminating schools that didn't have French as an available major.
This ranking exercise might seem cumbersome at first, but it can really be a lifesaver in helping you organize your thoughts, research, and impressions into something that helps you make a decision. Just remember that there's no science to this process--it's a step to help you prioritize your choices and consider each college in comparison to the others. At the end of the day, trust your gut feelings and if a college just feels right, it's probably a great place for you to go.