How to Narrow Down Your College List

Sort through your list of colleges to determine the right landing spot for you.

It's time to trim that college list. You're a junior or senior bringing that batch of eight or 10 schools down to the final choice. Use the tools incorporated with your CaptainU recruiting profile to ask coaches what you can do to get an offer and how their programs help with college costs. Remember what matters to you—a college's size, location, degrees, scholarships or anything else. These questions should help you get down to your top three or four schools. See which coaches make offers and what promises those include. Give your top choice your verbal, but talk to other colleges until you sign your National Letter of Intent.

Your list of 20 or 30 schools is down to eight or 10. By your junior or senior year, you want to bring that batch down to a few and then a single top choice. To narrow your list and close out the search, you want to ask plenty of questions, find what a program can really offer and give yourself time to make a decision you love.

College Choice

Who is interested?

To close out the choice, you have to pinpoint some of the schools and coaches you like. With a list of eight or 10 schools, you likely know the coaches well. They check in with you every couple of weeks, and your talks with them feel natural. They may ask you to fill out questionnaires about the program, send your scores from the ACT or SAT, and have questions and answers ready for your next phone call. It's clear they're interested in you.

Asking the right questions to gauge interest

You should figure out the seriousness of that interest. Push the process by asking big questions. Tell coaches that you like their program and ask what steps you should take to get an offer. It's smart to ask coaches to coach you through the process. They'll like the chance to guide you and to see how you respond.

Want to email a college coach, But not sure what to write? Learn more here.

Consider the cost of attending schools high on your list

This is a good time to talk with coaches about college costs. Tell them you and your family want to make wise choices and get as much help as possible. Coaches can always help their athletes find resources for school costs, though that help can take a few different forms. Programs without big budgets can offer grants and scholarships for good grades or give aid for books and housing. So even if a program doesn't have many scholarships for your sport, you don't have to scratch it from your list. Ask the coach to find other ways to make the cost right for you and your family.

Finding your top 4 schools

Of course, a lot of these schools are good. You've likely built relationships and met the team. But you have to trim your list if you want to reach a decision. To get your list down to three or four colleges, lay out the list and look at what matters to you. It may be the college's size and location, athletic division, degree programs or scholarships. Think about this alone as well as with others—parents, advisors, high school coaches and friends. If you have more questions about the college, ask the coach what it's like to be part of the team and a student at the school. These are big choices, so it's good to use both logic and emotion and to be patient with yourself as you choose.

Finding your top fit, and narrowing your list to one

Once you're down to three or four, it's a matter of getting to one. This is where talk of "commitment" comes in, and it's sometimes confusing. Some coaches may casually mention the word without being clear about a real offer to you. Then other athletes, even as young as freshmen, might talk about their commitment even when they have no real offers. To find out what colleges are possible commitments for you, be forward with coaches—ask what promises and how much financial help they can offer.

Once you've found your top choice, it's time for the verbal commitment

Your verbal commitment is not the end of your search. It's your stated plan, not your legal contract, and there's a lot that can happen to change your plan. Coaches leave for other schools and new coaches don't always honor previous coaches' verbals. So keep your talks open with other coaches, even after you give a college your verbal.

Ready to make it official? Sign your National Letter of Intent

Letter of Intent

The final step is to make everything official with the college that fits you. This part is about making sure the paperwork is set. You should get a letter of acceptance from the college and an official offer of scholarships or other help from the athletic program. At this point, you're ready to sign your National Letter of Intent, the contract of your commitment.

Want to learn more about the difference between an NLI and verbal commitment? Learn more here.

How can CaptainU Help?

It takes a lot of searching to find the college that best fits you. But if you're using CaptainU, you're the type of athlete who cares enough to make a wise choice. There's no need to leap at the first program that shows interest in you or sends an offer. You're in charge of your search and you're able to patiently make the call.

Ready to organize and trim down your college list? Create a free recruiting profile here.

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Topics: COLLEGE RECRUITING | RECRUITING PROCESS | CAPTAINU