1. They have a strong program in your major
College is not an isolated phase in life, but a steppingstone to a career. The job world is competitive, so above all, your primary focus should be to attain the best preparation possible in your chosen field. The best colleges will not only offer excellent classes for your major, but also internships and practical experience. So I recommend beginning your search by determining which colleges are strongest in the majors you’re considering. What if you haven’t chosen a major? That’s ok – just be sure your colleges at least have any majors you are thinking about, or attend a college with a wide variety of options.
2. The teaching matches your learning style
Colleges vary drastically in how their classrooms are structured, and sometimes there is a great deal of variation within a college. Generally though, at smaller colleges you can expect smaller classes with more discussion and at larger colleges you can expect more big lectures halls, with minimal student participation. Start by thinking about how you’ve learned best while in high school. When the teacher holds a class discussion, are you the one always raising your hand? Or do you prefer to sit quietly and take notes? Do you learn better by participating or by listening? Are you a hands-on learner? Or do you love to read and research? Once you’ve identified your learning style, focus on colleges where most classes will be taught in a similar manner.
3.You fit in there
This is a place where you’ll be spending the next 4-5 years of your life, so it’s critical that you can easily feel like a part of the community. Start by looking closely at yourself and identifying what type of people you want to surround yourself with. Then, pay attention to the type of students each college is known for. For example, some colleges, like Reed and Pomona, are known for students who are ambitious and competitive, while colleges like UC Santa Cruz and Goucher tend to attract students who value more social/academic balance. Colleges like MIT and Vanderbilt are more politically conservative, while places like Columbia and Bard are decidedly liberal. Target the colleges with students you’d feel most comfortable around. When you visit, look around and ask yourself, “Would I fit in here?” Try to imagine eating lunch with the other students, or studying in the library.