You're probably overwhelmed by all of the top college lists out there. There's no doubt that everyone wants to go to the "best school," but a school's ranking is only one factor that you should consider. As an applicant, what do you hope to get out of your college years and what expectations do you want to send along with your applications? Be sure to think seriously about the environment that will be most likely to bring the best out of you:
If you haven't decided on a college major, start taking inventory of your academic successes and interests - which were your best classes? Favorite classes? Also think about your favorite extra-curricular activities, sports, music, and even your favorite weather. If you pick a school that doesn't have your favorite major or activity, you won't find yourself satisfied with your choice.
What type of people do you want to meet in college? Do you want to be surrounded with type-A go-getters, or coffee-shop philosophers? A highly competitive student body isn't to everyone's taste, and neither is a laid-back one. Research what types of students attend the school you're looking at-or even better, ask a current student!
What type of relationship do professors and students have with one another at your favorite schools? Large classes may mean little contact with your professors, which can be unappealing for students who want a personal relationship with their favorite academics. However, just because your favorite school is a large one, that doesn't mean you'll be able to slip through anonymously!
Consider the support system your school will offer. Will you have an advisor at your favorite school? How much do advisors guide the students' choice of classes? Think about how much help you'll really need - or want!
How are social groups organized at your favorite school? Does Greek life dominate, or do athletics, clubs, classes, dorms, or local hangouts determine who your best college friends will be? If the social structure is different from your high school, do you think you'll easily adjust?
What do current students really appreciate about this school? What is their biggest complaint? Are these issues you can handle?
The best way to answer all of these questions is to visit your favorite schools in advance, and keep a checklist of the most important issues for your education. If you can't afford to visit, or the school is too far away, try to speak with as many people as you can by phone or email about the school.
A quick way of learning about university statistics is by checking out ranking websites, such as the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (www.nacacnet.org) or College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/).
These sites can help you sort schools by tuition, scholarship/financial aid opportunities, available majors, student body demographics, sports, even the quality of campus security. Also check out books like the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which have even more information about schools, quizzes, and student testimonials.