a) Cost - Tuition and assistance expected per situation
b) Location - Would you want to work in this city/state after graduating (applies to everyone but a lesser degree to those considering Medical School or Law School)? Do you prefer to stay closer to home or farther?
c) Size - Large number of students or smaller number?
d) Area of Study - It's not about being at the best school for any given subject, but you want to make sure it sets you up for an area of interest or has the diversity of curriculum so you can experiment.
To share my personal experience on the above, some of major reasons I decided to go to UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) after being admitted
a) public schools have lower costs
b) I wanted to be in a big/new city not within hours of where I grew up
c) I wanted a large student body after being at a small high school. I wanted to meet as many people as possible, but I can tell you being much older now of the hundreds of "friends" I had in college, there are only a few I stay in regular contact with now (quantity matters much more than quantity)
d) I completely neglected this and was somewhat to my detriment (my plan was to study Business but of all the UCs -- only Berkeley has a legitimate Business Major and I had no idea; as such, for jobs I applied I had to do self-study to ramp up on gaps).
Hubert recommends the following next steps:
Once you've narrowed down the list of colleges you're interested in, complete an application for each.
1. Know your deadlines.
Start your applications early enough to complete them by the deadlines. Deadlines are usually between January 1 and February 15, although they may be earlier if you are applying early admission.
2. Read the instructions.
Most of the mistakes on college applications are the result of not following the instructions. Don't let this happen.
3. Provide all of the requested information.
Leaving blank fields or providing incomplete responses makes it look like you weren't paying attention. Take care to be thorough.
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
And after you're done proofreading, give it to someone else to proofread! Typos on your college application are just sloppy.
5. Be honest.
Admissions staff will verify the info you provide, so keep it on the up and up. Don't exaggerate your accomplishments. Honesty is always the best policy.
6. Choose your recommendations wisely.
Use teachers, counselors, and others who know you well, both inside and outside the classroom. Give them enough time to write thoughtful and considerate recommendations, and be sure to thank them.
7. Make sure your essay represents who you are.
The essay is the only opportunity you have to explain why you are different from other applicants. Be original and make it personal.
8. Request copies of your high school transcripts.
Notify your counselor's office of your application deadlines so your transcripts don't arrive late.
9. Keep copies of everything.
Keep copies of your applications, your recommendations letters, your essays, and all other materials that are part of the application process. You never know if something will be lost in transit.
10. Confirm that your application materials arrived.
Contact each of your schools to make sure they have received your application materials. If anything is missing, supply it immediately.
Wilson's answer was awesome! Definitely do your research on which colleges you want to apply to... once you do your research, visit some of the campuses if possible so you can get a vibe, and from there-- narrow things down to schools that you felt good at! If you can't physically go to the campuses, do your online research, maybe get into contact with some counselors there. Like Wilson said, make sure you stay on top of deadlines and keep copies of everything :).
Darcel recommends the following next steps:
1.) List all of your hs classes exactly as they appear on your historical grades/transcript. This makes it easier for the reader to verify the number of units you have, and to compare with other apps.
2.) Only use acronyms if your reader knows what they stand for; otherwise, the first entry should be spelled out.
3.) Be careful with "clever" essays. They typically backfire. Using metaphors on top of metaphors creates WORK for your reader. This is a no-no.
4.) You want your reader to breeze through your app, so that they can spend their designated time evaluating you as an applicant. Simply filling out your app correctly goes a long way.
5.) Always be specific about your role with activities. Use data to help your reader have context, even if you think it is not that impressive. Again, you just want to give them honest context. Ex: Theater Tech Crew; supervised 6 techs for 4 productions, 24 shows. Responsible for lighting, sound and special effects. Another example: 1 out of 2, selected out of 60, as history class technology lead. Responsible for recording detailed data into high school archive.
6.) You are basically marketing yourself on an application. Your goal is to provide enough information that allows the reader to get to know you, the authentic you. If you have any issues that you'd like to explain, the "additional information" section of the Common App is a great place to do this. For example, you got a "C" in a class because your school has a no-drop policy. Or, you were out ill for 6 weeks due to an illness/injury.
7.) Last, an HONEST app is the best app. You are sending this to experts, people who have seen it all. They read many apps. For example, National Honor Society is actually more of an award, than an activity. If the only activity done in this club is community service hours, then simply list the community service hours, and use NHS as an award, because that is what it is. You were selected based on grades, typically a teacher letter of rec, perhaps an essay and c.s. hours. Your reader knows this.
Best of luck. This should be a fun process, letting your reader get to know you, the real you. No worries. You got this!