When you’re deciding on a college, it’s a good idea to start researching them early in the game. We’ve seen many of our students change their minds late in the process, after they’ve gotten to know a little more about the schools they’re looking at, or have narrowed down the subjects that are of most interest to them.


You can think of this as a Venn diagram, built around these three topics:


1. Location – Are you happy being around home and would like to be nearby for visits and good dinners? Or are you ready to get out into the world and start your adventure?


2. Specific program quality – Different schools have different reputations for different programs. You might be dying to be the next great journalist. And you might really want to go to the world’s most prestigious school. But what if the world’s most prestigious school doesn’t have a journalism major? Which is more important to you?


3. Cost – Lot’s of students are going into major debt just from the costs of college. Consider whether you are willing to be making payments for several years after college is through. Don’t forget that there is financial aid out there for people who are willing to put in the work to apply.


To get started, have at least one school on your list that is really reaching for the stars. If there is even the slightest possible chance to make your dream school work for you, then the last thing you want to do is remove it from consideration too soon.


On the other end of the spectrum, start looking at the schools that you can get into pretty easily. If, in the end, you have to resort to one of these fallback schools, find out early which ones you would most want to be part of.


Then find your in-between schools. These would be the ones that wouldn’t be your idea of college nirvana, but that you like well, are reasonably affordable, and that you have a good shot at.


Now, the schools that are good for you in all three categories go into the center of you Venn diagram. Those are the ones that you must apply to. Next would be the ones that are a match for at least two of the categories, which you should apply to in case you don’t get into your dream school. And finally, only apply to the schools that fit one category if you really need a fallback, and can be pretty sure that you’ll get in if all else fails.


And remember, the school that is your dream now might not turn out to be the best for you. We’ve had no shortage of students who thought the world was ending when they didn’t get their ideal school, but then came home four years later saying that they wound up in exactly the right place, and that things could not have worked out better for them.