Choosing a college is a decision that can shape the rest of your life. This makes it especially important to take your time, think through your options, and decide which school is the best fit for your interests, lifestyle preferences, and financial situation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The decision isn't simple: with so many colleges in Chicago, the sheer number of options can be daunting: where to even begin?
Start with yourself. Sit down in a quiet room, and imagine your ideal college experience. What would you like to study? What kind of campus would you like to live on? Would you rather experience the close-knit community of a small college, or take advantage of the incredible resources of a bigger school? What sports or clubs would you join? Would you live at home, in a student apartment, or in a dorm? How much can you afford to pay for tuition and living expenses? Write down your answers, together with how important each factor is to you.
Now it's time for some research. Colleges in Chicago come in all shapes and sizes: somewhere, there's a school that meets at least the majority of the criteria on your list. You might have to compromise on one or two of your preferences, but this could actually be a blessing in disguise - going out of your comfort zone can broaden your horizons and introduce you to new experiences that you never thought you'd enjoy. Many organizations publish college guides (one of the best known is written by US News and World Report); these books can help you quickly find basic information like class size for many different schools. Don't rely only on the numbers, though. Look through a college guide to find some colleges in Chicago that you might be interested in, and then visit the colleges' web sites to get a better feel for the atmosphere and unique qualities of each school. Take notes - compare the information on the schools' web sites to your list of preferences.
Once you have a short list of 4-5 colleges in Chicago that you feel a strong interest in, plan campus visits to really get a feel for each school. If you're coming from out of the area, schedule several visits over one weekend, so you don't have to waste time and money traveling back and forth many times. Visiting schools in person might seem like an unnecessary burden, but a campus visit can tell you much more about a school than looking through the website. You're choosing your home and your community for the next several years; don't jump into a decision without all the information you can get.
After your campus visits, you should be able to narrow your list down to 2-5 colleges in Chicago that you would be excited about attending. Discuss your choices with your parents and friends - and if you know anyone working in the field you would like to go into, ask that person for advice as well. Rank your schools by preference. Once you've found your top schools, you can focus on making your applications shine - and even if you're not accepted at your top preference, you can be confident that your second or third choice is still a good match for you.