When you are first looking at colleges, you have probably realized there are tons of options. So many options, in fact, that you might get a bit overwhelmed. In order to narrow down your potential college list, you should know which colleges to keep and which to take off your list. Each application you submit to a college can cost $100, so you don't want to spend a bunch of money just trying to get in, especially if you won't be able to attend or pay for tuition. Here is some advice for narrowing down and making a well-rounded list.
Making a list
When you first start looking, make a list of every potential college and university you want to or could possibly attend. This should be everything from community and junior colleges, vocational and trade schools, distance learning, and full four-year universities. Your initial list should contain colleges that you know you will get into and colleges that are a long-shot but, you never know. There are pros and cons to every school no matter where it is, so keep your options open.
As you look at your list of colleges, do some research about the college in general and the academic program you want to major in at each of the colleges on your list. Jot down things like their national ranking, student demographics and campus environment, cost of room and board and tuition, and even look up the quality of professors in the program. Anything that will give you an idea for what it will be like to attend and ultimately graduate from that program will help you make a balanced decision.
Compare each of these factors with each of the colleges on your list. There will certainly be some determining qualities that will come out of this research that will allow you to rank schools based on what you want to get out of it. Compare like-colleges to each other, for example universities with other universities, and try to mark off ones that don't meet your academic goals. You shouldn't have more than four to five of each type of college at the end of this. In fact, it is better to have no more than three of each.
What matters to you?
The decision is up to you, not your parents or friends or anyone else. Where you go should be your decision, as long as it is a responsible decision. Don't plan on going to Harvard if you have no chance to get in, and on the same note, don't plan on going to a college in your hometown just because all of your friends are going there. You want to go somewhere that will help you get to where you want to be after you graduate, not somewhere that will be fun to attend for four-years. You'll meet new friends and change a lot in the course of college.
The cost of tuition and room and board should always be high on your list of determining factors. There is nothing wrong with taking out student loans as long as you have a plan to pay it off after you graduate. And just because a school costs twice as much to attend than every other college on your list, doesn't make it better or worse. However, you may be able to get scholarships and help for tuition after you are accepted and receive a financial aid package from the school. Think about finances seriously and realistically before applying.
Attending an in-state college or university will help with tuition and living costs in the long run. Especially if you are thinking of going to a community or junior college in your hometown before attending a larger university in-state or out-of-state can help you save money. The first couple of years of your degree is taking generals and prerequisite classes, so there isn't always a need to start out at the best college. You can always apply to a bigger university in a year or two.
On the other hand, choosing a college that is out-of-state, if the cost of attendance is worth it, can open you up to the world outside of your hometown. There will be a lot different types of students in a college that is two states away than one that is only a couple hundred miles away, so keep that in mind. College isn't always just about the academics, it is also what you experience during those four years.
Your chances of getting in
Think honestly about this one: Realistically, what are your chances of getting in? There is no sense of paying the application fee to a bunch of schools you don't have any chance of getting into. And that's ok. Just because you can't get into a top ten school doesn't mean you won't be successful. It is what you make of your college career that determines your success.