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How to help your high schooler narrow down prospective colleges

Julia Christensen is an experienced tutor and professional writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

It's time to apply for college! Here's how to start narrowing them down with your child

Choosing a college can be an incredibly difficult task for your teen. While it may seem to your student that finding an interesting school is difficult, with the plethora of university options, narrowing down the list will likely prove to be more of a challenge. What can you do when your student can't pick just a few colleges to apply to? Here are a few things to keep in mind about the application process, as well as some ways in which you can help.

How many is enough?

Your student should have a short list of top picks, plus at least one backup option just in case. While there is no magic number of schools to apply to, between three and seven tends to be a comfortable selection. If she wonders why she can't apply to all, say, two dozen schools she is interested in, remind her of the application fees and required time. Does she really want to send subpar essays to schools she may be interested in because she was too rushed to edit? Applying takes time and often money, so keeping the list within reason is vital.

What about reach and safety schools?

Have her aim for variety. A quick online search of the schools she is interested in may show you that all of them are incredibly selective, or perhaps the opposite, and none of the schools she shows interest in will be challenging to get into. Look for a balance between the levels of exclusivity, with schools she could most likely be accepted to taking up the largest percentage, followed by some highly-selective and highly-open options. A combination of practical schools, reach schools and safety schools can be very beneficial.

How do we weed down the list?

Her short list of schools should have a proper balance of institutions that offer her desired major, as well as any athletics or extracurriculars she knows she would be interested in. If she is an avid golfer, it is better to know now if the college has a team. For incredibly long lists of potential college choices, try using a short list of must-haves as a deciding factor. For example, perhaps her must-haves are an Elementary Education program, a student newspaper and an option to study abroad. If you really need to make cuts on the list, remove any that don't fit all requirements and see what is left. Why apply to nine schools if only five can offer everything she wants?

Help her think past the education by asking about other factors, such as the location, campus culture and cost. Will she know anyone on the campus? What about in the city or state? How much is tuition, in case she does not receive financial aid? Is dorming available to all students? These questions can shine light on possible trouble areas.

Also, discuss her would-be day-to-day life to spot any bad matches. For example, if she won't have a car, a school in a city without reliable public transit may not be a good fit. Likewise, if she is worried she'll get homesick, attending a school in a state where she knows no one may not make sense.

By narrowing down the list to a curated handful of colleges, your student can start the application process focused on the schools that would work best for her.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit varsitytutors.com.

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