You’re ready to close out your college search? Ask smart questions to narrow the list and find your top fit.

It’s time to trim that college list. You’re a junior or senior bringing that batch of eight or ten schools down to the final choice. So 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 twenty or thirty schools is down to eight or ten. By your junior or senior year, you want to bring that batch down to a few and then a 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.

To close out the choice, you have to rule out some people you like. With a list of eight or ten 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.

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.

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 its coach to find other ways to make the cost right for you and your family.

Of course, a lot of these schools are good. You’ve likely built relationships and met the team. But you have to trim 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.

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.

Your verbal commitment is the 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 to 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.

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.

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 that 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. If you ever want to talk through your choice with someone new, then reach out to a CaptainU counselor with an email to

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