Parents: If you had it to do all over again, where would you choose to go to college? Imagine yourself in your child’s position and think about what you loved about college and what you wish you could have changed. But now think about their needs, wants and expectations.

Start out with a “Long List” of 20-30 colleges. Don’t worry you don’t need to visit all of them and you will eliminate the ones that don’t meet your criteria. Cast a wide net in the beginning of your search, do your homework on college websites and with guidebooks and begin to narrow the list.

Here are some important factors to consider when making your college list:

Location/Setting – While this may seem to be such a basic question, many students just “don’t know”. Part of them may crave the known comforts of what they’re accustomed to and yet most of them have at least a twinkle to set out on their own and try something new and different.

While location is important, so too is the school’s setting. Have you always had your heart set on a bucolic, ivy-covered campus? Or are you fascinated with museums and want an urban environment as your backdrop?  This is where a campus visit is so helpful. If you can’t make the visit to the specific school, visit a college nearby your home that resembles the size and setting of the one you’re considering.

Things to think about – How often do you think you’ll want to come home to do laundry? What are the additional expenses of attending a college that will require you to fly back and forth? Many southern students seem intimidated about heading north where cold weather and snow can last from Halloween to Easter. As a graduate of a “cold weather college” I can honestly say the cold was a “non-issue”, never inhibiting our school spirit, but we sure did celebrate spring!

Size – Try to get away from stereotypes and blinding blanket assumptions such as “there’s nothing to do at small schools” or “”I’d just be a number at a big university, I’d never get to know my professors.”

Things to think about – Are you looking for an intimate environment? Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a bigger pond? There are a lot of wonderful mid-sized colleges – small but not too small and yet big enough to sustain clubs, sports and social events. There are also Honors programs at some of the larger schools that provide that small private college feel within the big university environment.

Public/Private – Public colleges generally cost less than private institutions since they are partially funded by state tax dollars. Attending a public institution outside your home state, will likely cost as much, if not more, than attending a private college. While private colleges generally are more expensive they also tend to offer more merit and need-based scholarships and grants.

Things to think about – It is usually a good idea to consider having an in-state college in the mix, especially with the volatility of today’s job climate.

Academics – Colleges list their strongest/most popular majors in the guidebooks and Admissions Offices will also often provide applicants with a breakdown of students by major. Colleges adapt to the changing times and professors come and go, so don’t rely on someone’s recollection of “they used to have a great religious studies department”.

Things to think about – Don’t discount a college because your major isn’t listed as one of their top three, but be sure to identify the strengths of different departments of interest.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: ;