As you are looking at colleges and determining what you want in a college, you will also want to consider the other side of the relationship: what will the college want to see from you?
Every college admissions office receives a flood of applications each year, and each has developed their own method for sorting through the applications. Essentially, every college is trying to find a student who will succeed academically on their campus, and contribute to the vibrant life of the student body. How can you communicate these points to the college through your application?
Start with your numbers.
While some schools are beginning to throw out their minimum requirements for grade point averages (GPAs) and national test scores, those schools are still just a small fraction. Make sure that you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with your classes, as admissions counselors review both the academic rigor of the class and the grade. Even if you started off high school with a less than perfect GPA, an upward trajectory in your academics can help show that you are moving in the right direction for college.
Then prove that you are more than your numbers.
Look to your extracurricular activities, volunteer time, sports, or hobbies for examples of your character. Think about what you have learned about yourself through these activities, and what skills you have acquired. How do your activities tell the story of who you are and what you want to be? Committed, consistent efforts often look better than a variety of scattered activities, so make sure to show how your activities are related to your goals and interests. You can use this story in your application essays and you can ask the adults involved in these activities for letters of recommendation.
Show your school spirit.
In your campus visit, essay, or interview communicate how interested you are in that particular college. Include the work of professors that you admire, or courses that you wish to take. The more specific you are, the clearer you can show them how you would fit into their picture.