02/29/2012 01:25 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2012

Merit Scholarships, Test Optional Colleges, and One Way to Judge a Great College

We wrap up our quiz on the colleges with answers to four questions that are more than trivial -- they're essential in helping you build a college outlook that's right for you.

5. Name the one attribute Agnes Scott College, Hope College, and Goucher College have in common. Reader NMPeterson found the common thread -- these are three colleges listed in the excellent guide Colleges That Change Lives by Lauren Pope. A distinguished education journalist, Pope spent a long and productive retirement telling students and parents what to really look for in a college. He wrote a book praising the exceptional work of a few dozen colleges where student learning clearly came first.

What you should consider CTCL colleges are smaller and focused on the liberal arts -- but read the book even if this isn't what you think you're looking for in a college. You'll develop an outlook on the real purpose of college that will let you see qualities -- both good and bad -- in any college you wouldn't be able to see without the book. CTCL is the key to personalizing a college search -- well, after reading College is Yours 2.0 as well. (You can get a taste of this perspective by viewing the CTCL website.)

6. Many colleges offer a study abroad program, but only two colleges had every 2010 graduate participate in study abroad. Name them. Goucher College and Soka University of America get the nod for full study abroad participation, but the entire list of colleges with high rates is worth a close look.

What you should consider No matter where you head to college, ask ahead about study abroad opportunities. Many colleges offer study abroad as an option, but may be part of a college consortium that offers joint programs. This could expand the number of places to visit, but limit the number of students from your college that can attend. Also, ask if study abroad is covered in the tuition costs, and if participating will put you behind schedule for graduating in four years. The travel may be worth the extra time and money, but the time to know that is now.

7. National Merit Scholars need to know about The University of Alabama and Wayne State University. Why? These two schools offer full tuition scholarships to all National Merit finalists. Other schools have similar offers -- check here.

What you should consider You don't have to be a National Merit finalist to earn great college scholarships -- many colleges will offer big financial incentives to students based solely on grades and/or test scores. Merit Aid is a great place to begin this search -- just double check with each college to make sure the offers will apply after next year.

8. Bates College, Lawrence University, and Wake Forest University are only three of hundreds of colleges that offer an important option few students know about. What is it? Reader Rob Friedman said these are SAT optional schools -- so he's half right. These are three of the growing number of colleges that don't require any test scores at all (SAT or ACT) for admission for all or most of their applicants.

What you should consider Most students don't know test optional colleges even exist, while others think these colleges must be only so-so at best. The FairTest list not only proves they're real, but they're also really good -- and Lawrence is still taking applications for next fall! It's probably still wise to take the tests, but a look at the list should easy any test stress -- no matter how you score, great colleges want to hear from you.