Your choice of a college will probably be the most important decision you will ever make before becoming an adult. With literally thousands of choices, it is necessary to narrow down the possibilities.
I. Narrowing it Down edit
1. How Competitive? edit
You should separate your college possibilities in three. The first is your "reach schools", one or two schools that you have a low chance of getting in, but would really like to go to. The next group is your "target schools", two to four that you have a pretty good chance of getting in to. The last one or two are the "safety schools", those that you don't really want to go to but would if you had no other choice.
Of course, competitiveness does not ensure a fit. Which is why this list does not end at #1.
2. Public or Private? edit
Public colleges are usually less expensive, especially if you are a resident of that state. However, diversity may be low, and the best of the best colleges are usually private (with the exception of the UC system).
3a. University or Liberal Arts? edit
Universities generally have more choices than liberal arts colleges. However, they may feel crowded, and have a high student-teacher ratio. Universities are more likely to give athletic scholarships, and are more likely to have fraternities/sororities. Universities usually have better research facilities, but liberal arts classes are more likely to be taught by a professor and not a TA.
3b. Big or Small? edit
Universities are generally larger than liberal arts colleges. Bigger means more choice, but it can make you feel lost.
4. Close or Far? edit
If you go home every winter, spring, and summer break, travel costs can add up if the college is far from home. On the other hand, if you want your parents off your back, or don't like the weather of your hometown, you may want to go to a college that is further from home.
II. In-Depth edit
Once you've narrowed down the choices to less than a dozen, it's time to look more deeply into each college. This would be a good time to look for facebook groups with students from the colleges you are looking at. Get to know the kind of people that go, and what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of the college.
There are many guides in bookstores and libraries about colleges. Most have one to five pages per college. However, this may not be enough for you. You can literally buy a 150 page book about a specific college from collegeprowler, get a subscription at their website. Amazon sells the individual books for about $10.
Of course, the best thing to do if possible is to actually visit the campus. Most college websites will tell you in their admission section about how to register for a visit. Nothing comes close to this in helping you decide.