2. Decide How You Define “Best” by exploring what is most important to you in you education. Pay special attention to things like what kinds of environment you tend to like academically and socially. Try to go a step further and recognize why some things are important (is it personally important to you to have small class size, or is it just something you’ve heard you should want).
3. Take stock of your academic credentials and then find schools that match your package academically. Know that extracurriculars are great and important and a vital part of your application, but that they won’t work miracles if your numbers aren’t in range.
4. Talk to your parents about finances before you start applying. Know what your full picture looks like, if there is any money saved, if you qualify for financial aid, if your parents will co-sign a loan, if your planned future career will make taking loans out a good or bad investment. Be realistic before you get your hopes up for a school you just can’t afford because “best” is also absolutely about best price.
5. Put a great deal of effort in on your applications and start early. Work on your essays, put thought into your supplements, give your teachers months to get your recommendations together. Spend time cleaning your resume to make the best possible use of the space the commonapp gives you. Try to be submitted a month in advance to give yourself enough time to fix any problems that might come up.
6. Wait. Distract yourself. Apply for scholarships (even small ones! they add up!) in the meantime.
7. Consider your options. Its more than likely if you picked good realistic schools that you’ll get a few to choose between. Compare financial aid packages, take the time to call the offices and do the “Your rival gave me 5K more a year, but I really like you better but that’s a lot of money” game. Visit the schools and go to admitted students day. Talk to people. Get a real feel for the schools that you might be attending.
8. Pick the school that your heart wants. You might be leaning towards one school or another when it comes time to pick, so listen to your heart. You often really want one school, but just don’t want to discredit the other options too early. Listen to your heart (but give your wallet a megaphone!)