It is more art than science... we started our search with the Fiske Guide to Colleges and a pack of post-its to mark the schools that looked interesting. Then looked at SAT test score ranges. Then visited. It was easy to find reach (and expensive) schools that fit the bill. Much more challenging to find matches and safeties. We found you really have to set foot on campus to tell. And my D didn't really know for sure until going back for accepted student days (so 24 hours on campus) at her top choices. She ended up picking what was her 3rd choice going into those final visits.