This spring, U.S. News visited Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C., to ask eight students from the class of 2013 about their paths to college and to invite them to pass along any helpful lessons learned.
Not far from North Carolina's state capitol, the school's district is home to a cross-section of rich and poor neighborhoods; more than one-third of the students live in poverty. Nearly half of the school's 1,250 students are white, about one-third are African-American, and Hispanics and Asians account for the rest.
The high school offers an International Baccalaureate diploma program, and 150 students take part; 89 percent of the class of 2012 went on to college.
James Hemphill plans to play basketball and study history or economics at the United States Naval Academy.
After being recruited by 17 schools, including the University of Houston, Utah State University, Boston University and the United States Air Force Academy, the talented forward narrowed his list to the Annapolis, Md., school and four others with decent teams as well as academics that appealed to him.
He just liked the feel of the place when he visited campus. He also welcomes the full ride that comes with admission, and the $1,030 a month he and fellow Middies are paid to go to school. In return, he'll spend five years in the Navy or Marine Corps.
He also will have the potential to get business or law school covered if he's interested in serving for an additional five years.
SAT/ACT Scores: 550 math, 550 critical reading, 470 writing; 21 composite
Extracurriculars: Basketball team, BHS's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, vice president of the school's Young Republicans Club; maintenance work and lawnmowing
Best part: Developing relationships with coaches at various schools.
Worst part: Calling the coaches at schools he turned down.
Helpful: The NCAA website clarified the rules for college athletes and when it was OK to talk with coaches. Also, "I used my Bible app a lot" during the stressful period of sorting through the offers.
Tip: Student-athletes should get a notebook and keep track of what coaches tell them, along with their own impressions, so they have consistent information on all schools.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.