"A student has to sit down and be really honest with himself or herself about what they really want out of a school before they can even start to narrow down their list," Stieffel says. "Once they've identified those things that mean more to them, they can identify maybe five to 10 schools that might meet that criteria they've set up."
[Learn why ranking your college criteria can help you pick the right school for you.]
Though applying to a dozen schools worked for her, Bell warns that it's not a good idea to "apply just to apply" if thoughtful evaluation hasn't taken place first.
"Definitely do your research early," Bell recommends. "This is your future—spend some time doing it."
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