McFarland Carillon at Illinois

5 Ways to Narrow Your College Search

You might be thinking, “There are a thousand colleges I could go to. How in the world am I going to choose just one?” It’s tough! A lot of great colleges across the country excel in their respective fields, so how do you even begin to compare them? We’re giving you 5 ways to narrow things down.

1. Size

When looking at various colleges, start by considering size. Do you like the idea of a really big school with lots of people, or do you want to keep it smaller and more personal? Answering this question can begin to narrow your search criteria.

Related to size, if you wouldn’t mind attending a large university but are concerned you won’t receive a personalized classroom experience, pay close attention to student-to-faculty ratios. The lower a ratio is, the fewer large lectures you’ll find and the more direct access you’ll have to professors at that university.

2. Location

Location is also an important factor when choosing a college. You can live in a big city, a small city, a suburban greenscape, a rural oasis, on top of a mountain, below sea level, or somewhere in between.

If you come from a city or a rural town and you really enjoy it, you may want to look into similar locales. On the other hand, if you want to try something new, you could do the exact opposite. But don’t be fooled—some cities are quiet, while some rural areas have a vibrant college-town life.

As you consider locations, also ask yourself this: “How close to home do I want to be?” If you want to be able to drive home once a month to see your beloved pet rat (let’s call him “Fluffy”), you may want to consider colleges that are close by. If you’re comfortable seeing Fluffy less often and don’t mind taking a train or plane to get to him, you might decide to expand your search to include a larger area.


3. Major

If you already know what you want your major to be, that’s great! Look for schools of your preferred size in your preferred location that have that major. If you aren’t sure what you want to major in yet, that’s also great! You have the opportunity to self-reflect and explore your options at a number of colleges.

4. Cost

Cost is such a key factor when making a decision as big as going to college. Because it’s such a large investment, you want to make sure you get the best value for your education. Familiarize yourself with how much college costs, and then determine the maximum amount you can comfortably afford.

At this point, however, don’t rule out any schools based on cost alone. Both scholarships and financial aid can help drastically, and we have advice on how to apply for both.

5. Fit

The concept of fit is a little less concrete, but it’s arguably the most important thing on this list. Because if you’re going to spend four years of your life at a particular college, you should definitely feel comfortable there.

The best way to determine fit is to visit campus, where you can explore the college, including its people and its surroundings, to the fullest. We’ve written a blog about what you should look for when visiting, and that blog includes more on this very topic.


Once you narrow down your choices based on the above search criteria, it’s likely that multiple schools will make the cut—and that’s a good thing, because you should always apply to more than one college.

So if one school ticks off all the right boxes on paper but another school still seems like the dream, don’t hesitate to apply to both of them. You can always use this list to narrow down your options again after all those admissions offers come rolling in!

How Illinois Stacks Up

Size: Large Public University
Location: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Majors: 150+ in 10 Academic Communities
Cost: Estimate Your Cost of Attendance and Financial Aid
Fit: Unknown (visit us to find out!)

Illinois Admissions

Illinois Admissions

We're here for you as you prepare for college. Whether you're looking for guidance on the college search process or have questions about Illinois, we hope our blogs will help!

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