There are a number of choices when it comes to colleges. In fact, there are 3,039 four-year colleges and 1,685 two-year colleges in the U.S., according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The vast number of options gives you the flexibility to select what you want—but you have to know what you are looking for first.

These five steps can help you narrow down your options and choose a college that works best for you.  

  1. Create a profile for your ideal college – There are many types of colleges. However, most are categorized by duration (two year or four year) and access (public or private). Create a profile for your dream college that takes these two factors into consideration, as well as others, such as location, size, programs, lifestyle, and cost.  

  2. Determine how you will pay for it – Maybe you have money saved away or perhaps you plan to take out a student loan. Determine how much you can afford to pay for college as well as your options for paying it. For example, you might qualify for financial aid from the U.S. government, the state where you live, the college you attend, or a nonprofit or private organization.  

  3. Research the programs – Colleges do not generally require you to declare your major until your sophomore year. However, you are probably already tuned into your talents, interests and desires. Use those as a guide in choosing your major. Do you intend to study Alternative Medicine or International Business? The more specific your degree of choice, the more important it is to ensure the program availability at your intended college.  

  4. Visit the campus – You can check out a college’s website, “like” their Facebook page or get a glimpse into campus life via Instagram. However, your research should not end there. Make sure to schedule a campus tour to get a feel for what life is really like there. Visit the buildings where you would be attending classes, eat lunch in the dining hall, and check out the bookstore. You may also want to call ahead to schedule a meeting with an admissions counselor since they are able to answer any questions you might have in greater detail.  

Apply on time – Many college application deadlines fall in January. Be sure to check with your admissions counselor. What happens if you miss them? It depends on the college. There is a chance that it could delay your acceptance or ability to enroll in classes, it is best to get your application in on time. So mark your calendars and plan accordingly. It is the first step in starting your college career on the right foot.