To find the perfect college, the prospective student should be able to spend a good amount of time in the school. Maybe pick up the school's newspaper, eat a meal at one of the cafeterias, go on a tour. But the most important I believe is to talk to a random current student and ask about what they like or dislike, to get an opinion different from what the admissions office tries to convey. Making the most of the college experience involves balacing out the academics and social life, Knowing when to focus on the future and when to take a break from all the stress involved with school.
Visit the colleges. Don't just ask your tour guides questions; ask the regular students. If you can, let your student spend a night or two on campus without supervision. The campus and it's students change when there aren't parents around. It's this change that will help you determine if this is the right school for your soun or daughter. Never deny your child anything college-related. These four years are precious; each day is one-of-a-kind. As long as they are safe, you have nothing to worry about when your child takes on a new endeavor.
I would tell myself that I should plan ahead and be more proactive about my career path. Choosing not to care because the future scared me only made me have to go to a college that I disliked. I would tell myself that the choices that I made right now would affect me in the future. I would tell myself that it's okay to feel scared and anxious about the future and that it's okay to talk it out with people. It won't make me less of a person if I showed these more vulnerable sides of myself with other people, it will only make me stronger.
To be honest, I have gotten a large reality check about the real world. It was easy for me to not even realize how sheltered I was from adult like problems throughout high school. College experience has been valuable to help me gain my independence as a real adult. It has also been valuable for obvious reasons pertaining to the fact I am getting higher means of education. All in all, college experience for me is challenging and pushing myself to be a better student and ultimately a better individual.
I would tell them not to go to a school based on name, reputation and status. Find a school that has a good location as well as the type of person you would want to be friends with. Location is important because no matter what a positive, great environment will add to any experience. You will make whatever you make of college. If you go to a school thats not as known as Harvard you can still learn a lot. It is more about your experience and what you learn than the name of the school.
Be differentt in your approach and open minded. I decided in 6th grade that I was going to attend Morehouse College and would have only appied there had someone not made me promise to visit other schools. I am at Emory because Emory fits me best. You have to find the school that's right for you. once you do get involved so that the school becomes your own. Join clubs or represent the school in some aspect. College is what you make of it, so enjoy yourself while you can in doing it.
I advise anyone choosing a college, to listen to your inner desires. Do not let anyone influence your idea of what kind of school you want. For example, if you want to be in big school with hundreds of people in each class, then follow your heart because I gaurantee you, if that's what you want, you will never be happy in a small school regardless of how academically beneficial it is. Do not let anyone talk you out of what you feel is right for you.
Definately go and visit the school. Stay with someone in their dorm or apartment for and extended time (at least 2-3 days) to really get a feel of campus life. Open House weekends are great to get information about the school, but to really be able to picture yourself there, go during a regular weekday/weekend and talk to as many people as you can. You will be able to feel if you can see yourself there or not for the next four years of your life.
During the week, spend a couple hours each day in the library. Even if there isn't work due tomorrow, it can help to do some work every day in a productive setting. Realize that classes are important, but so too are the relationships you will make and the things you will do. Make your college experience one that you will remember fondly. Choose good people to be around and relish your time with some of the closest friends you will ever have.
The only advice I can give other than the typical "excellent academics, available professors" suggestions is to find a campus where you know you will be able to relax. Search for a campus with wonderfully green surroundings or a quiet library or whatever environment will help you to relax. Despite the fact that college can be a lot of work, there is a good amount of down time, and sometimes we all need a little time to escape the books.