These 5 Criteria Will Find the Best College for YOU

08/04/2014 10:41 am ET | Updated Oct 04, 2014

It's not the most prestigious. Going to the "top" school you get admitted to can often lead to a miserable four years, if you make it through to graduation. If you want to be successful, successful in school, and successful using that education when you graduate, the following criteria will point you to the best school for you.

First, find a school where most of the students are a bit better than you. "Better" to force you to do your best each day to succeed. "A bit" so that bringing yourself up to their level is possible. (This by the way is the primary reason going to a top school is a great advantage for those that qualify, because it puts you with other students that are a bit better than you.)

Be honest as to where you'll fit academically. It hurts the ego a little to admit you're not the best. It's four years of struggle if you go to a place with a better name that's not a good match for you.

Second, find a school with a strong sense of community. Working with other students in your classes is a tremendous advantage. Participating in non-academic events with your classmates makes school much more enjoyable and reduces the pressure. Look at what the schools offer, and the participation rates in how class and non-academic events are set up. A great example of a combined academic and fun community building is participation rates in hackathons and code wars (if you're a C.S. major).

You're leaving the family and friends you have known forever to a new environment where everyone and everything is new. A school that encourages the students to work together provides a gigantic advantage.

Third, find a school focused on making every student a success. There are schools that brag that only the best graduate. Many that are silent on the subject. And then there are the ones that say they admit students based on the expectation that every one of them can graduate. This doesn't mean that the grades are guaranteed. What it does mean is they focus on getting every student to succeed.

Nothing is more demotivating in class, more harmful to a sense of community, than knowing no matter how well you know a subject, if 10 percent of the class knows it better you're getting a B. Don't go to a school where it's a brutal win/lose result.

Fourth, find a school that will get you in good internships. If you have time, during the school year and definitely during the summer. For this location is highly useful. If you want to intern at high tech companies, Silicon Valley, Boulder, Boston, Austin are all phenomenal locations because of the number of companies in the area. Companies where you will learn a lot because of the level of the employees and other interns there. Equally valuable, in the internships you will learn if this is what you want to do when you graduate -- that's invaluable.

At my company, we don't ask for your GPA. We don't care what school you went to. Our first question is where did you intern, what did you do there, and who was your manager (so we can call them). Find a place that pushes you beyond what you thought you can do.

Fifth, if you want to work for high tech companies, not just C.S. students, but marketing, journalism, pretty much any major, go to a school that participates in numerous hackathons and code wars (the Windward Code War is one of the best). They're fun, you learn a lot about all facets of creating a product, you learn how to make decisions quickly. What's key here is a school where they have a large participation rate in many of these events (Harvey Mudd College and Univ. of Maryland rock at this).

Again at my company we ask potential hires a lot about programming competitions they have been in. It is a superb way to get both an understanding of the trade-offs they made in the process and to gauge the depth of their passion for the effort.

If you find a school where the above five criteria match what you're looking for, you'll likely have an enjoyable and productive time at school. It will still be hard at times, frustrating at times, and more. But most of the time it'll be something that feels right and where you're learning. And that's what matters.

And remember, you're looking for the best school for you.