This is the time to explore schools that match your needs and also to adjust your needs as you gather more information. You should target schools that seem like they would be a good fit and focus on the following areas.
Academics: How are the majority of classes taught? Are they lectures or class discussions? How intense is the work load? Is there a core curriculum that all students are required to take? How difficult is it to meet these required classes? Does the college have a strong program in your intended field of study? How much time do students spend studying?
Student life: What are the students like? Do they seem like people you would be friends with? What do the students do for
fun? Are they more artsy or athletic? More studious or more interested in partying? Are there fraternities and sororities? How much do they dominate the social scene? What percentage of kids stays on campus over the weekend? What percentages of kids participate in sports? Theater? The Newspaper? You fill in the blank for your passion.
Campus: How does the campus make you feel? Can you see yourself here for the next four years? What are the dorms like? How easy is it to get to town or a nearby city? What amenities does the campus offer kids in terms of a gym, theaters, transportation to town or local attractions? What is nearby and are they things you enjoy doing?
General learning environment: What is the general feel of the campus in terms of learning and community? Are professors accessible? How so? What is the political climate, and are all the views accepted or does the campus lean more towards conservative or liberal views? Is the curriculum more focused on liberal arts, hands-on learning, pre-professional programs, etc.? How does this type of learning style match your own?
Financial: How much does it cost for tuition, room and board? What percentage of students receives aid? Is it needs based or merit based aid? Are there merit based scholarships available? How many students receive them and do you think you would qualify?
After your visit write down your overall impression of the school in about 2-3 sentences and determine if you want to keep it on your list. Also, make sure you sign in with admissions, so that they can note that you have visited the school. Ask for the name of the admissions counselor that handles your geographic region and get his/her card for future correspondence.