Selecting which college or colleges to apply to can be a very daunting process for most high school students.
There are people I know that start by looking at books that list the top, say, 300 schools in the US or the best 100 schools in the region or the best 100 schools for a specific area of study. The available choices can be numerous but you must exercise some discipline in deciding which and how many schools to apply to. Ideally, you should concentrate on no more than 6 schools and, if you can, apply to 4. Yes, I am sure there will always be some that will apply to a lot more schools just because that makes them feel more secure! Here are some suggestions that may help in making the selection process more manageable:
1. What do you want to study?
Many students don’t have a clue about which major to pursue and may not pick a major till their second year in college. However, this luxury may be ok for a liberal arts major student but an engineering or a professional degree student may have to decide upfront on which major to pursue, although, there is room to change your area of concentration within that college. For example, an engineering student can, within the college of engineering, switch early on from one engineering major to another. If your grades are good and you find that you have a passion for a different area of study, a change is always possible but you may have to take some additional courses to fulfill the course requirements. The key is to decide early and avoid spending an extra year or two in meeting your graduation requirements. Most large universities offer a broad spectrum of choice, however, if you want a small or medium size school, you may want to broadly pick an area of study and focus your selection accordingly.
2. Is location or size of school important criterion?
There are almost 3000 four year degree colleges in the US. Narrow down your choice by preference of location, if any, and size of school. There are excellent choices but you must learn to focus and not decide on any more than 12 schools at this point.
3. Are you ready to narrow down your choices?
Does your list contain some stretch schools and some safe schools? Be realistic about yourself and your ability to get into a specific school. Are you an Ivy League material? If not, drop such schools from your list. Do you have SAT/ACT and subject SAT score that can get you into a highly selective school? If yes, apply to a couple. If not, drop them from your list, unless, you have other redeeming strengths, like being, a super athlete, an Olympiad or you possess some other exceptional qualities.
4. What can you afford?
Is financing college education an issue for you? Yes, you may qualify for some need based and merit based scholarships and you may also be able to borrow some funds from educational loans. Try not to get too deep into debt. There are many modestly priced schools that offer an excellent education. If you are a resident of a state, in state schools are likely to be most affordable. International students usually do not qualify for financial aid at public schools but they may get some aid from private colleges, if they can demonstrate need and are exceptional students.