Your first consideration is your own needs. Are you a Junior in high school looking to go off to college after your senior year and live on campus or are you a 25 year old single mother looking to expand her opportunities? Maybe your a young man who has been in the workforce for a few years and wants finally buckle down and get that education everyone keeps hammering him about. Most important though, you want an education. So look at what you need:
-On campus or Off campus housing?
-Available child care?
-Close to home?
Think long and hard about your own personal needs. The young high school graduate may not need child care, but will need on-campus housing if they will be going to school far from home. Some universities require freshman to live on-campus if they are not living with a relative in the area. Students who work full time may need a campus that offers classes nights and weekends.
Once you've mapped out a little bit of what your biggest concerns are, the biggest question is, what do you want to study? What do you want to be when you grow up? An architect, lawyer, police officer, fireman, psychologist, teacher? Begin your search within schools that offer a curriculum that will lead to an education in whatever field you choose.
* In this economy, community colleges are getting more and more popular. They're increasing their curriculum to meet the demand, and are usually able to provide great financial aid packages. If you are unsure, a community college is a great place to start because the savings is worth it and the value is extremely high. The education provided is no less worthwhile than a university but can sometimes cost from one-third to one-fifth of the cost of tuition for a university.
Most community colleges also transfer their courses easily to nearby universities. For instance, the community colleges in Texas are easily transferred to most Texas public universities. Not to mention that almost all of your Core Curriculum requirements can be met at a community college. For those who don't know, most liberal arts universities (those that aren't technical schools, usually) require a broad range core-curriculum consisting of literature, math, social sciences, language, and so on. Taking those courses at the community college level can save you a large amount of money as well as provide you with more time to search for a university you would prefer, a major you would like (as a core-curriculum applies to nearly all 4 year degrees), or what field you would like to work in in the near future.
Community colleges are a great asset also for those who need night/weekend classes or online classes to fit their schedule. Look for local college and check out their "Distance Learning" programs. It can be very helpful! Some public universities offer online courses too.
Once you've decided on what you want to study, and you've either completed all you can at the community college level or want to skip that option, look into local universities. Public and private. High school students can find that their guidance counselor is an invaluable resource.
Now that you've narrowed down your choices, apply to the schools. Don't procrastinate. you made need ample time to complete essays. Be sure you've completed the most recent FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and added the schools you've applied to to your FAFSA so that your prospective schools can look at your Financial Aid options and put together a well rounded package for you.
Once you start receiving your acceptance letters (hopefully!), you should start seeing financial aid package information. (If you qualify, of course!) Look through them carefully. Weigh your options. Loans? Grants? Scholarships? What is your Estimated Cost of Attendance? (Should be easily available by the institution, probably mailed to you with your financial aid package) Weigh the cost versus how much money they're providing. Look into the local cost of living in the area (if moving for school). Talk with family about their ideas, people with experience around you are great resources!
Once you've weighed the best packages, pick your new school! It's been a long process! Celebrate!