What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Narrow Down Your College List

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Ronni Shaw in a CollegeVine Livestream. You can watch the full Livestream, Building Your Perfect School List, for more info.



First, identify the most important college criteria for you


When you want to start narrowing your college list, figure out what programs or experiences matter to you the most. Ask yourself: “if I attended this school and wasn’t able to pursue this opportunity, would I be disappointed?” 


Common types of important criteria


  • Does this university have majors that I’m interested in? You might want not just one major that you’re interested in, but maybe a few majors that you’re interested in, in case you decide to switch majors later on.


  • What types of learning experiences are available beyond courses? Consider the full spectrum of learning and development experiences are available. Ask yourself: “Are they strong in internships or research? Do they have strong career development opportunities?”


  • Does this college have a strong study abroad program? If there’s even a little part of you that wants to study abroad, make sure you’re choosing a school that has a strong study abroad program. 


Next, consider the smaller details that make up the full school experience


There are some smaller criteria that, in the beginning, might not seem very important, but can actually make a big impact on your college experience. These details – things like campus life, class sizes, athletics and religion – make up the full school experience. As you start to narrow down answers to the big questions, try to evaluate some of the smaller factors. They are the kinds of things to help you narrow down the perfect fit. Below are some examples.


Class Size


A lot of us might think that class size is not important, but it can actually make a huge difference in your college experience, depending on the type of learner you are. Ask yourself: Do you prefer big lecture-style classes, or do you want small classes that give you the opportunity to really talk to classmates?  


Campus Walkability


Throughout the day, you will likely spend a lot of time walking between classes, or between dorms and dining halls. Some campuses are small, and self-contained, and very walkable. Others, particularly urban campuses, might involve a lot of travel throughout the day. So, when choosing a school, figure out how you will get around campus. If you want something easy, choose a smaller, more walkable campus. If you don’t mind traveling longer distances, a large campus, or urban campus, might be a good fit for you. 


Food on Campus


While food might seem like a small deal, four years of eating bad food could result in a disappointing experience. Many schools publish details about their dining options, and I recommend checking them out to get a sense of what your options are. This is especially important if you have dietary restrictions or preferences. 


Religious Affiliation


Campuses often have religious affiliations and religious groups. If religion is something that is core to your education, you might want to consider a college with a religious affiliation. Many colleges also have options for places of worship. If you are not interested in a religious-affiliated college, but can see yourself practicing religion on campus, look for colleges with religious groups, communities, and places of worship. 




If it’s important to you to participate in athletics, get to know the teams, facilities, and size of the athletic program. Also, some students enjoy attending big sporting events and games on campus. If this is important to you, you might want to consider a school that has D1 athletics, for example. 


Social Opportunities


If you’re interested in social opportunities, you might want to explore the Greek Life scene on campus. If you know you don’t like Greek Life, then you should explore social activities on campus, such as lists of clubs. 


Need more help finding a college with a strong fit? 


If you found this to be helpful, watch the rest of Ronni’s livestream, Building Your Perfect School List.


For more guidance on how to find your best-fit college, see these CollegeVine articles: