Even though college is still 18 years off for me, there are a lot of students that are beginning to think about college. I came across a good article in the Christian Science Monitor about choosing the right college. The article says that the most important point in choosing is that the college has "the right fit" which could be anything from college being the right price to the campus feeling comfortable. To figure this "right fit" out, they suggest four actions to take:
Build your own college ranking system: What's important to you and what's important to another student is probably not the same. Make a list of what you want from a college to help rank the colleges of interest.
Focus on the first year: Look at how the college treats it's freshman students for classes ans other activities and see if this appeals to you.
Gauge the engagement: "Research shows that if students engage in certain activities, they're likely to learn more than if they don't," says Trudy Banta, vice chancellor for planning and institutional improvement at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. The long list includes: "things like participating in faculty research; study abroad;... service learning; contact with faculty outside the classroom - [especially] talking about intellectual matters; group work with peers; and how much they study."
Probe preferred majors: Take a look at how the majors you may be interested in are regarded at the colleges you're considering.
I think that these are a good way to begin if you have no idea where you want to go or if you're trying to narrow from a few colleges to one or two. I think the last line in the article sums it up pretty well:
Do as much research as you can, Stuart says, but when it's time to make a choice, "it comes down to a feeling."