You and your parents are about to make one of the largest investments you will make in your lifetime – your college education. The beauty of your investment is that no one can repossess it – there will not come a day when a big, burly, unshaven brute pulls up to your house, backs up his tow truck, and hauls your brain back to the bank. Nope – won’t happen. You are investing in a capital good – a product that generates wealth through application – can’t see it, can’t touch it, can’t wash your windows with it – but a good that appreciates with time. Hot dog! Latent wealth at your command – static potential to dynamic action.

To quote our president-elect – a HUGE opportunity. So be a wise and informed consumer of this product called college. Do your homework. Let all the years in high school research projects pay off in the work you do now. Here are a few things that can help you learn about your next step. Subliminal reminder – grades matter.

Let’s say you have settled on size, location, type of program, and you are ready to dig into the marrow of a college. The internet is a most useful tool. Even though at first glance all colleges look alike, the differences between colleges emerge through careful examination. First stop – look at the admission page to learn about course and test requirements, as well as due dates and the type of application form required. If you’re adventurous, compare admissions pages and find the five pictures all admission websites share. Next – take a look at the academics page and delve into areas of interest. If you are interested in biology, look at the requirements for the major and, more importantly, at the courses the biology department offers. Same for history or English or mathematics or languages. Come away from the academic pages “wowed.”

Venture next to the “Student Life” page – after that, look at housing and food plans, find out what happens on weekends. Far away from home you will be a young Jedi master, and you want to be surrounded by stuff to do. Some of you will go look at large universities where you can attend a football game with many thousands of your closest friends. Some of you may want to go to theater or music productions, some of you may want to join a fraternity or sorority and hang out with your friends.

Finally, examine the “mission statement” of the school. It is found on the home page. Read it several times and ask if it resonates with you.

When your family friends, your distant relatives, and your friends are done asking you where you want to go, you’ll hear their opinions and suggestions. Ask why a college might be or might not be a good spot for you. When you and your friends gossip about college, keep in mind they are as anxious as you and know little more than hearsay.

US News and World Report ranks colleges annually. The rankings can give you a starting place, but realize that the rankings never consider you as a student or evaluate what your experience will be at a particular college.

Your best effort matters.

So dig in! Use those good skills to learn all you can about a college or university. You are making a large investment in your future. Be smart about it and oh, yeah, grades matter.