I would suggest that students think not only about the physical and academic environment of the college but also the social environment in terms of what kinds of conversations they would like to overhear while sitting at the cafeteria or waiting for class to begin. Common hobbies or backgrounds are not precise indicators of how compatible you will be within a student population, so it is best to visit the college and see what kinds of conversations you find yourselves having with current students. Making the most of the college experience depends very heavily on your ability to balance many new aspects that will arise in your lives: balance between schoolwork, jobs or internships, social activities, volunteering. Make sure not to take too much on initially, in order to allow yourself sufficient time to observe your new environment and establish new routines; and absolutely do not be hesitant about trying courses in academic disciplines you never thought about before, beyond the accumulation of knowledge and skills, college is meant to be a time of discovery and intellectual intrigue.
As a high school senior, I applied to 14 different schools. I aimed for Ivy League schools and smaller schools, such as Swarthmore and Vassar. Unfortunately, I was only accepted to one of these schools, my "safety". Instead of taking a year off and reapplying, I took advantage of the financial aid they offered, but knew that I would apply to transfer after my freshman year. I applied to my top four schools again and based on my excellent grades at American, I was admitted and was offered a $38,000 scholarship to my number one choice, Barnard College. Though my experience was unique and my journey to Barnard was roundabout, I would advise students to not worry about getting into their top school the first time around; transfering turned out to be the best decision I ever made! Even if you need to take a year off and re-apply, don't settle for your "safety" school! Real-life experiences during a gap year make you unique and wise about the world. Don't waste years of college in a place where you are not happy! Reach for the stars and don't settle until you get there!
The first thing that I would tell myself is that even though I am academically disadvantaged I was admitted to the same place that other students who attended expensive private schools did--and I should not let this intimidate me. I was admitted because I am capable of doing the work but I needed to make some adjustments. One of those changes would have to be my study habits. I would suggest when doing a reading to summarize each paragraph in less than 10 words, write handwritten notes and then type them up in outline form--so that when exams come around I would have a study guide ready. I would also tell myself to practice reverse outlines so that I would get comfortable with them. I would suggest to get out of comfort zone and join clubs that I would not have typically joined in high school. I joined a club whose members are mostly Muslims. Although most of the time I am the only non-Muslim attending the events I have made so many friends, learned so much about the culture and ate great food. I absolutely love it! I wish that I would have done this earlier.
One of the most important things in finding the right college for you is how you feel when you walk on the campus. It could be the best college in the world, but if you feel trapped, out of place, or like you need more space when you walk across campus, your feelings probably won't change as time goes on. If you can't visit the school, try contacting someone who goes to the school. The way they respond will tell you a lot - people who love their school will always try to sell other people on it and be very enthusiastic in their responses, whereas someone who is lukewarm about their school may be apprehensive to respond to an inquiry. Finally, make sure the school has what you want academically. Not all schools have all majors, and while you might (well, probably) will change your mind between your college apps and graduating, you don't want to rule out something you're interested in before you even get there. As far as making the most of your college experience - get out of your dorm room! Go to lots of clubs and meetings. Friends will just happen.
If you already know what you want to do with your life, try to find the college that both has the best programs in that field, AND is in a location where you can start forging contacts and doing internships while you're still in school. When you graduate, not only will you be a step ahead of your fellow floundering alumni in terms of finding a job (you already have those contacts you made from your spring internship, remember!), you'll have an easier time adapting to your new life off campus since you'll already have at least a passing familiarity with the city. If you don't have your life goal already figured out, take a leaf out of my little sister's book. She's graduating from high school this year, and while she knows she wants to go to an art school, she's not sure what her focus will be yet. Cooper Union (her first choice) embraces the many forms art can take and encourages its students to learn them all. Now she won't be stuck with exclusively figure drawing and realize one day that what she really wants is to paint landscapes.
There is a lot of information to help you and your teenager find the right school. In fact, there may be TOO much information. The guide books and guided tours can only take you so far, and school rankings change faster than liberal arts students change majors. Having found a great college, and watched two sisters go through the process, I am convinced that no book or tour guide can tell you as much as your own observations and gut reactions to being on campus. Be creative! Be brave! Talk to students and professors, if you can catch them, and if you can't, take that as a sign that you might not be dealing with the friendliest bunch. Go online and read the college newspaper! See what issues are being addressed on campus and whether they match up with your interests. There are as many signs pointing you to the right school as there are schools to consider, but in the end, it is up to you to find them, and to seek out the people and places on campus who will convince you that you made the right choice. Be open, be confident, and have fun!
I would say look for a university or college which fits one's personality. The material taught at a lot of American colleges is very similar, however the type of the student body is what makes every class room experience different (i.e the debates going on in a liberal arts college may vary immensely from those taking place in an engineering school). The prestige of a college/university shouldn't be a huge factor in choosing an institution to attend because virtually all colleges and universities have similar curriculums; however, the connections a student can make at a prestigous school can be very handy in the working world! For students planning on resuming graduate studies, I recommend finding an undergraduate school with a great financial aid package. In the professional world, it basically matters where you earned your graduate degree. Lastly, remember that one's GPA, recommendations, extra-curricular activities and internships are what seperates students around this nation, not the name or prestige of one's school.
Figure out what you want to get out of your college experience. Through self-evaluation, conversations with friends and family, and school counselor appointments, learn as much as you can about your personal expectations. College can be the portal to a successful future. Your decision is important, and must be your priority while applying. Perhaps you are looking for an opportunity to advance your social growth; perhaps you want to stay near your family and friends while you earn your degree. Maybe college is a means to graduate school, and maybe it is the final step in your education. While you do not need definitive answers to these questions, merely thinking about them and exploring your options will enable you to make a better decision. You may decide to participate in various activities while in college, but that does not mean that your education should remain in the background. Put into your college experience what you expect to reap from it, and you will not be displeased with the results.
Finding the right college can be difficult but there are a lot of things that can help you narrow down the decision. However, until you actually go to the school, you can't know what it is really like. You may think you want a large school that will offer more courses and have an incredibly diverse student body, but when you get to campus end up feeling lost in the crowd. The best way to get a sense of what you are looking for is to visit various schools that are different from one another both in terms of location, student body size, etc. Talking to the students there is also a great way to get a sense of what students do or do not like about the school which can then help you decide what is most important for you to have in a college. To make the most of the college experience, it is important to push yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone and not be afraid to try new things. Try out for the dance team, join the paper or get a job on campus to meet different people and have fun!!
Don't be fooled by the allure of a brand name, or glossy, high quality college look-books. Photos can capture a campus, but they can also be decieving. Take the intiative to visit the campus, walk around and talk to the current students. The moment I stepped onto the campus of my college, I immediately fell in love; and I just knew. No matter where a student ends up, an acceptance letter isn't the end goal; it's the beginning of a fresh start. College is what you make of it; the environment you're in can only nuture you as much as you let it. However, sometimes an environment can be completely wrong for you- and transfers are as common as switching majors. It's only 4 years, but it can be the best four years of your life, up until graduation.