Niche Resources

My Take: How to Narrow Down Your College List

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

I have always found it a little crazy that—worldwide—teenagers are expected to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

As a senior in high school, I was panicking about choosing a college because I had no idea what I wanted to study!

College is so expensive and such a big commitment that I worried about choosing one based on my future career then regretting it later on.

Luckily, I identified a variety of factors that would help me choose.

Whether you’re unsure of your major like I was or simply needing help to cross schools off your list, here are the factors I use to help me my make my college decision.

How to Narrow Down Your List of Colleges


Cost is one of the first thing soon-to-be college students consider where they will be the next fall.

Before applying to schools, sit down and figure out a budget for college tuition and living expenditures.

College is ridiculously expensive, and it will be much easier if you determine “your number” early on in the process rather than getting your hopes up for a specific school, then realizing you cannot afford it.

Discuss these costs with your family, if they are involved in the college process, and go from there.

Take into account any possible scholarships you may receive at the universities you applied to.

If the school you like is far from home, be sure to factor in the travel and transportation costs to and from where you will live.

Costs can add up quickly.

By making a spreadsheet for colleges you’re considering, you can track expected expenditures and use that information to help you ultimately decide which school fits your finances best. 

On Niche, you can explore Best Value Colleges, which are identified based on their calculated value using public data sets and millions of reviews, in addition to graduates’ salaries after graduation and the graduation rate.

Field of Study

If you don’t know what exactly you want to study, look for a college that does a variety of things well.

That way, once you start taking classes, you don’t have to worry about your school not offering a major (or a quality program) you’re interested in. 

As a high school senior, I knew that I was interested in writing… but that was about all I knew.

I chose Northwestern University because when I went on my tour, the guide told me about their motto, “AND is in our DNA.” The motto perfectly describes the average Northwestern student—they do everything!

Here, it feels like there are more dual or double majors than there are single-area majors. My tour guide was a great example of that—he was studying theater and chemical engineering!

The diversity of areas of study attracted me initially, but the idea of being able to do so many things at once was what really grabbed my attention. 

Do some soul searching and try to nail down a general area of study, even if it’s as broad as the field of history.

If you choose a school with a lot of options and you end up not liking your major, you’ll have so many majors to fall back on!


Do you love the city, or are you more of a rural person? Can you not imagine being far from the beach? How do you feel about snow? Do you get homesick easily?

The answers to all of those can be deal-breakers or decision-makers.

If that last one sounds like you, you might want to consider staying closer to home for college.

Eventually, you will grow out of feeling homesick, but early on in the college experience (and during a pandemic!) it can be comforting to be somewhat close to home and to your family.

Staying within your state and attending a public school will also mean you qualify for in-state tuition, which is a gamechanger for costs—not only for tuition but transportation costs as well. 

Student Body

The type of high school you attended can play a huge role in what size you want your college to be.

If you went to a tiny high school, it could be overwhelming to attend an SEC school, which are often tens of thousands of students. But if you’re the type of person who could not stand the small size of your high school, that idea might excite you.

The overall size of the college student body impacts the class size as well, which directly affects the amount of time and attention you will get from your professors.

Some peoples’ academic success depends greatly on their relationships with professors, and a large class size often is not conducive to those close relationships.

Consider what type of environment you came from and whether that worked for you when choosing a college. 

Student Life

What does the term “college experience” mean to you?

For some, it’s getting hyped for the big football games. For others, it’s participating in the research community or taking late-night trips to the campus diner.

For starters, take a look a Niche’s tops schools for student life. And on individual college profiles, scroll down to the Campus Life section for student input on the social scene, dining, housing and more. 

Research the factors of student life that are important to you.

Everything But the Classes

There is so much more to college than just going to class.

My school’s career guidance office has been such a big help to me throughout my last two years with everything from cover letter editing to actually sending me internship postings.

The job search would be a lot more difficult without them.

I recommend learning about career resources available at the colleges you are considering. You can find out information about that department from the school’s website itself or from current/former students.

One factor that, in my opinion, is not talked about enough in the college decision process is the availability of mental and physical health resources.

College is a stressful time, and it is important that your school provides you the resources you will need to get through it healthily. This can look like professional mental health counseling, or it can be as simple as quarterly check-ins with an advisor.

Whatever the school chooses to do, make sure it will work for you before you go there.

Sorting It Out & Narrowing It Down

Not knowing what you want to study doesn’t mean you have to stress out or just randomly pick a school from your list and hope for the best. 

Scrutinize your list closely. Reflect on the points mentioned above and think about what will make you the most happy.

Busing these factors, you can feel secure in knowing you made the best choice you could make with the information you have.

Ready to Find Your Niche? Create an Account

Author: Jenna Spray

Jenna is a second year journalism student at Northwestern University with a concentration in law. She writes about fitness and relationships for Her Campus Northwestern and works on the corporate section of her school’s most popular magazine, North by Northwestern. In her free time, Jenna likes to sail, go to the gym, and eat pasta with her friends.