When first choosing a college, you need to divide your college choices into three categories: top-choice schools or those that are most difficult to get into, your second choice schools or ones that you have a reasonable chance of getting into and that you would be excited to attend, and finally your “safety colleges”, those schools that you will definitely get into. It is a good idea to try having 2 or 3 colleges that fit into each of the different categories.
The next step is to narrow down the college choices by doing some research. Talk to counselors, teachers, family friends and even your parents–these people will be full of friendly advice and, since they know you, they may have specific reasons for recommending a certain college to you.
When you think about schools, you need to consider what you really want in an education. A pre-professional education prepares you for a specific job and includes areas such as engineering and pre-med. Some schools like M.I.T. have very strong programs for those interested in the sciences, but might not be right for someone interested in literature. A liberal arts education, on the other hand, aims to equip you with general knowledge and reasoning skills suitable for many jobs.
You also want to ask how the college ranks in the major you want to study–some schools are stronger in some areas and weaker in others. While it may be too early for you to know whether you want to major in English or history, check out how strong the programs and professors are in the various fields you are considering. One indication of how much emphasis a university places on a major is to find out how many students are studying that major, how many courses are offered in the field and how many faculty members teach the courses associated with that major and others like it. If you want a major in a narrow field, you might have to consider a larger university.
As you explore colleges, you’ll discover that some factors are not as important to you as others. Ultimately, you want to pick schools that meet your needs. As you do your research, keep in mind that your college education is one of the most important investments you will ever make in your future and it’s worth spending the time to make sure that you make the right decision.