Once you've decided to go to college, how do you pick one? It depends on what you're looking for. Things that can affect your choice include: What kind of career you hope to have, what you want to study, how much it costs to attend, how close to (or far away from) home it is, the area it is located in, the size of the student body, the social life, and how much you like being on the campus (since you're going to be spending a few years there). Here are some things to think about:
Career: There are a number of online inventories that can help give you ideas about careers you might be interested in. It is perfectly fine to go to college without knowing what career you want afterwards, though. People who think they know what they want to do for the rest of their life at the age of eighteen often end up changing their minds. Many students learn about careers at college that they never knew existed. You can find several career inventories you can try for free on California Colleges.
Major: If you know what subject you want to major in, it might affect where you want to go. Some subjects can be studied anywhere. Others are available at only a few schools. Some schools are well-known for having exceptional programs in certain subjects. You will have to do some research about schools you are interested in to find out if they fit the subject you want to study. You can do this by talking to teachers and counselors, by looking at college catalogs in your school's counseling office, or going online. If you are having problems with internet searches, ask someone to help you. Remember, though, that it is ok to go to college without choosing a major first. Most college freshmen enter "Undeclared" and many students who have chosen a major end up switching at least once before graduating.
Cost of Attendance: This can be tricky. When considering costs, keep in mind that expensive schools might be willing to give you big financial aid packages that make them cost less than "cheaper" schools. What many students do is apply to all the schools they are interested in, see where they get accepted, and then save the final decision until after they find out how much financial aid they are getting. When thinking about the cost, remember: if School A offers you $30,000 in aid but costs $60,000 to attend, and School B only offers you $10,000 in aid but costs only $25,000 to attend, School B is still the better deal in terms of overall cost.
Community College: Another option to consider when dealing with the cost of college is the option of starting at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school after two years. Community colleges are significantly cheaper than most four-year colleges and can be a great way to save money for the first two years.
Distance: This is really just a matter of your preferences. Some people want to be close enough to come home regularly. Others want to be far enough away that parents can't drop in on them unannounced. Think about your priorities and make your choices.
Location: This is also a matter of preference. If the college of your dreams is in the big city but you really love small-town life, this might not be the right fit for you. If it's located somewhere cold and dreary but you love sunshine, this is also a concern. The area your college is in will be your new home for years, so make sure it's a place you don't mind being.
Size of the College: There are advantages and disadvantages to both large colleges and small ones. Large colleges typically have lots of activities and events, a wide variety of people for you to meet, many different services for students, and larger classes. Smaller colleges often have fewer activities but may have a close-knit and personal feeling among the students and smaller classes. They may have fewer and less-recognized sports teams, but it may also be easier to play on one of them if you are interested. Weigh how important each of these factors is for you.
Social Life: The best way to find out about the social life at a school is to ask students about it. You might also go on a college website and see if they have clubs and organizations that appeal to you.
Check Out the Campus for Yourself: Make sure you visit the colleges you're interested in so you can get a feel for the place. You might find that one school feels crowded and bustling, another seems very laid back, and a third feels very friendly. These are things that are hard to pick up on from pictures on their websites. You get your best sense by actually spending some time on campus (and not just on the planned tour). You want a place that feels right for you.
Once you know what you're looking for, you can start asking counselors, teachers, and others for ideas about colleges that fit. A good website to help you find colleges that match your interests is California Colleges. It has a database that allows you to put in the things you are looking for and then provides you with a list of colleges that match and links you to their websites so you can explore them.