1. Know yourself
Instead of overreaching to please others, you should take an inventory of what works well for you now. Ask yourself, "What do I really gravitate toward right now? How do I succeed?"
Maybe you thrive on class participation in school. Then a smaller college—one with a tighter student-teacher ratio—might be a good fit. Also, think practically. If you've never used public transportation, navigating an urban campus might be a nightmare.
2. Consider cost
Since the financial crisis of 2008, college value is still a focus for the majority of parents and students. And with the cost of college tuition still rising, people want to get the greatest bang for their buck. So should you.
A lot of students eliminate colleges and universities they perceive as too expensive—but don't let that deter you. The "sticker price" of tuition is often just a starting point. Depending on merit- and need-based financial aid awards, the actual cost can be much less.
3. Don't box yourself in
While some of your friends and peers may be locked in on a career path, being single-minded as a college freshman can carry its own risks.
Just remember: a lot of kids are struggling with what their career is going to be. The American school system is actually built on indecision. You can absolutely be "undecided," but you just can't be uninterested.
Most college curriculums are built with a two-year foundation of general education classes, so you can take your time to pick a major.
4. Seek out mentors
Studies of college graduates have shown that developing mentorships with faculty members is one of the unexpected benefits of college. Still, students must be proactive to take advantage of this perk.
So say "yes" to the adults that want to help you. It's up to you to seek out faculty members during their posted office hours.
5. Use the internet
When actual visits are impossible, virtual tours online can give you a feel for campus life.
Visiting local colleges and universities—even if they aren't on your "favorites" list—is a good way to establish the difference between the feel of small campuses and large ones.
Also, the College Board offers an online tool called "Big Future" that works like a matchmaking tool to align your interests with "good fit" colleges.
6. Don't obsess about test scores
Yes, SAT and ACT scores are important, but no, they aren't the final word on college admission. More than ever, schools are looking beyond your test scores. They're really looking at how rigorous your classes are and how you challenged yourself and/or improved.
Still have questions about making your college list?
A Collegewise counselor can help!