When I was looking at colleges for me, I had a rather large collection of pre-set notions. I didn't want to stay in state, let alone in town. An all-women's college in the north was preferable to an all-women's college in the south. The best co-ed school trumped the best same-sex one. My reactions to these schools were usually based on chemistry supported by a few facts.
We visited every college I applied to, with the exception of Hobart-William Smith in New York's Finger Lakes region. I attended a get-acquainted session in Baltimore. When asked why I might want to attend, I responded with the usual stuff. Then I threw in, for good measure, that it would be wonderful to be close to Manhattan. My hometown was closer to Manhattan than Hobart! Had I gone there, I would have been forced to take remedial geography.
I suspect we all make major decisions with highly customized sets of biases and blind spots. As we get older we usually add a little more knowledge and logic to the process. Or sometimes we don't.
At least today's teens have much more information available to help them build their lists of possible college targets. But in the end, as with most decisions, gut takes over.