I ended up going to the same college my mother went to, though it played no part on my decision. I mentioned it one day at dinner as a possibility and she arranged a tour. I often tell my students that when I got out of the car I just knew it was the place for me. Many schools have the slogan "You Belong Here!" but as I toured the campus that day I really knew that I did.
Since then I've realized that I lucked out. My feelings about the school were right and it ended up being the best place for me. One of the top education programs in the state, it prepared me to be a teacher and introduced me to many of my best friends.
For my Masters degrees, I spent more time investigating programs. I looked at rankings, reputation, cost, etc. I ended up pick university's close to home that also met my needs.
Like several others, I had to stay close to home so that I could work my way through school. I stayed on campus during the week and worked an evening job, and commuted home on the weekends to work a second job.
I have to say that I've become a bit of a doubter in regards to the importance -or even the existence - of The Right School. I think that the education you take away from any college is much more closely aligned with the effort you put in than with anything else. Even smaller and second-string schools offer opportunities for those who are willing to track them down.
I chose my college because it was close to home and it was affordable. It had a good reputation, but it was the most poorly run college I ever attended. Many of the professors were very good, but the bursar's office was forever losing student money...you had to save every receipt. I had some wonderful classes in my core studies...they changed the way I look at literature, and really enabled me to fall in love with many different kinds of writing. That kind of experience allows one to be passionate in the classroom about (God forbid, the kids think) Shakespeare, for instance.
I chose an institution that was far enough away that I was slightly disconnected from home, but close enough that I could come home when I wanted to, or my family could visit me regularly. I had other reasons as well, but none were related to academics, which is a major regret of mine. If I had it to do over, I think I would have simply chosen the school with the best academic program in my field (history) that I was able to get into, and attended there regardless of its geographic location.
I wanted to attend a state university that was fairly close to home; with a decent college of education; and a major athletic program. I chose the University of Florida since it fit all of my needs, and I have never questioned my decision. Gainesville is a great college town with a fairly liberal setting (for Florida or the Deep South). Despite the large number of students who attended there, I was still able to find my niche in several areas (particularly music and theatre) that served as a sidelight to my degree in English Education. It was such a great experience that I remained in Gainesville for more than 30 years after graduating.
There were quite a few factors that went into my decision. First, my mom and older brother had gone to the school that I went to, so I had visited it many times and knew I liked the atmosphere. Probably the second factor was that I wanted a "college experience." I wanted to live on campus, join a sorority, and go to sporting events for a team I could get excited about. In my mind, the four years after high school was the only window of time that I would actually be able to get this experience, and I'm glad I did. Of course, it's not for everybody, so I wouldn't tell all of my students to choose on the same basis, but for some I think it would be good advice.
Sadly, the last factor for me was the school's reputation for its School of Education. I probably wouldn't have gone there had it not had a good School of Education, but I honestly don't think it was my deciding factor in the long run.
My situation was similar to that of vangoghfan. I went to the nearest local university because I could live with my family and commute there. This was back in the days when one could literally work one's way through college, which is exactly what I did. I had considered other schools; however finances made my attending anywhere but nearby impossible. In the long run, however, my choice proved to be the best. I have never once regretted my choice, even though it was thrust upon me; and have never felt that I was disadvantaged. In fact, I managed to earn my baccalaureate and first graduate degree from my alma mater. Later, when I had relocated, I earned a third degree, this time from a university near my then home so that I could again commute.
Frankly, with all the emphasis on which schools are better, etc., some consideration should be given to the ability and effort of the students. Even a good school can't do much for a poor student.
I stumbled into mine. I'd never heard of the college that I ended up going to until they sent me literature based on my PSAT scores. I applied because it sounded interesting with its emphasis on a great books core curriculum. I went there because it was the best school (in terms of the not-yet-so-controversial US News rankings) that I got into. I have to admit that my ego made me go because it seemed like going to a top school validated my view of myself as a smart person (kind of shallow, I know). Of course, I would not have gone had they not come up with an aid package that made it possible.
I chose an undergraduate college that was close to home and one to which I could commute. Finances were very tight at that time, and I could not have made another choice. Fortunately, it was a good school and I met faculty there who truly transformed my life. I could not be more grateful to them.