For me, I can remember that decision making process clearly. My parents provided advice when asked, but mostly let me chart my own course with that decision. The autonomy with that decision was something that was extremely motivating. I ended up applying to 7 schools as far north Wabash College in Indiana as far east as the University of Richmond and as far south/west as LSU. Out of all of those I picked Miami University, and I haven't regretting that decision once.
The reasons why I picked Miami was that I wanted a new experience in a new part of the country and Miami fit all my other qualifications: commitment to undergraduate education, college town, mid-sized university. One thing I hadn't considered when looking at schools, but lucked into by choosing Miami was Miami's strong study abroad program. Like many of my classmates, I took advantage of this program, and I am thankful to have spent a summer in Asia.
Picking Miami changed my life and could possibly be the biggest, most important decision I made when you consider the butterfly effect. That was the first time my life hit a fork in the road, and if I hadn't gone to Miami there is almost zero chance I would end up in Minneapolis, etc, etc.
Why am I thinking about this at this current moment? I just read this great article from Frank Bruni on How to Choose a College? When you think about how big of a decision picking a school is shouldn't this article be required reading? The below passage from the article is something that I fully believe is true:
"If you're among the lucky who can factor more than cost and proximity into where you decide to go, college is a ticket to an adventure beyond the parameters of what you've experienced so far. It's a passport to the far side of what you already know. It's a chance to be challenged, not coddled. To be provoked, not pacified."