Choosing where to go to college is no small task. Given the importance of your decision, it's almost essential to get input from others whenever possible.
Cost is certainly a consideration, but if you do the legwork for financial aid or student loans, you should have many options.
Stay or go: One of the first decisions a prospective student must make is whether or not to stay in town. If you plan on living at home for at least the beginning of your college career, you should look at junior colleges in the area or four-year schools in in your area. Several city and state schools offer full-degree programs at suburban satellite campuses, giving students even more options.
Interests: While you might not know what to do with the rest of your life, if you have a general idea, steer your search in that direction. There are numerous publications and websites that rank schools in several categories. Research the programs you find interesting. Check out the faculty members of the academic departments you're considering.
Location: Visit the prospective schools on your list. Check out the campus. Visit the town. Can you see yourself living there for four years or more? If you're staying in town, how is the commute? Talk to students. Get a feel for life on campus. Do students have to belong to the Greek system to meet others? Are there social options for students who choose not to drink? Does the school place a value on diversity? Are football games as fun as they appear to be on TV? Questions like these can help you determine whether or not you'll fit in on campus.
Intangibles: Factor how your new school will help you adjust to life away from home by asking yourself some honest questions. Do you want to be several states away from your friends and family, or do you want to be a manageable car ride? Do you want to go to the same school as your friends? Would you sacrifice anything to attend a big-name school over a small institution? Answers to these questions usually have more to do with where a student decides to attend school than academic rankings.