Take a deep breath and try to relax. This won't be as bad as you think. That goes for parents as well as students. Finding the college that's best for you is an education in itself. It's a journey—physical, intellectual, and emotional—that will help you learn about yourself and your family, as well as that scary but necessary American subculture we call higher education.
Like any great trip, half the experience is in getting to your destination. The key is to start with the right attitude and a few of the right resources.
You're reading one of those resources right now.
We've been in the business of helping people through the college search for three decades, and our Best Colleges guide has long been viewed as an essential starting point. It's meant to be read, re-read, marked up, ripped up, and put in your memory box when the search is complete.
In one handy volume, we give you a detailed overview of the nation's traditional colleges and universities, with facts and figures to help you decide which ones might be a good fit. (Warning: Four-year brick-and-mortar colleges might not be your best option for a variety of reasons, including cost. It's worth considering two-year programs and various kinds of online education options.)
We give you a feel for the culture at a cross-section of schools. We ask a variety of students to share their application experiences. And we help you get organized for what can seem like an overwhelming series of requirements and deadlines. We also take you through how to pay the bill, which has become increasingly complicated.
It's our goal to bring some perspective and sanity to what can be an exhausting, demoralizing experience. We're known as the college ranking experts, but I'll be the first to tell you that there is no one best college. The point is to find the college that matches your personality and abilities.
To do that, you have to do some homework on sites like this—there are a few others that are pretty good as well—then get out and explore. Take it slow and enjoy the process.
Read our "road trips" section and think about some schools you might like to go see. The more campuses you've visited, the better you can compare (starting early doesn't hurt). By the time you come down to a short list of schools, there's no substitute for walking the grounds and talking to students and professors.
And remember, the most important visit is often the one that comes after you've been accepted and have real decisions to make.
We can also help with more information. This site has thousands of pages of rankings, research, sortable data, photos, videos, and a personalized tool called College Compass.
New this year to our school profiles: We've added jobs and internships to the mix. Prospective students of a particular college can peruse the data to get a sense of which companies are hiring its graduates or offering internships; graduates, in turn, can search through the database for entry-level job opportunities.
The process isn't as daunting as it may sound. The short list will soon emerge if you take your time—and keep your sense of humor.
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.