If you’re a teenager in a typical American high school, this is exactly what your guidance counselor is supposed to be for. They have all the college catalogs you could want, and they know what to look for in a school. But not every guidance counselor is up to par, so here are some tips on taking this search into your own hands.
Before you even start Googling specific schools, figure out the basics of what you want. Big school? Small school? On-campus housing? Religious or political leaning? The three most important factors are probably programs, location, and cost, but you don’t have to choose specifically along any of those three axes. Cost can be assisted, location can be a great new experience, and whether you’ve decided your major or not, many schools will have the flexibility to make sure you get the education you want.
When you have a list of those basics, put them in columns. You need this, you want that, you don’t want the other thing.
Now, fire up your internet. Google’s great, but College Navigator is a federal tool made exactly for this. So use it. You can search by all the qualities mentioned above, as well as by admission requirements and the average scores and grades of applicants. All the data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, and it is 100% free. It’s a good way to get a fast sampling of colleges that fit your list of needs and wants.
Once you’ve narrowed things down a bit, you can refine your research. If you don’t know what you want to do in college, that’s fine. You don’t have to have a major right away. Any major you want is going to wind up being built on most of the same prerequisites, anyway. Look up a sampling of teachers attached to your favorite schools and look up student reviews on them. Search for appearances of the schools in the news.
You have more research on colleges and universities available to you than any previous class has ever had. Use it all. And then when you’ve refined your selection down to 3-5 colleges, apply to them all. Applying to more schools will only increase your odds of being accepted.