There are plenty of questions to ask when searching for a college. Now, many prospective students are adding one more to the list: How green is the school?

Green colleges aren't just for students who hope to land a job in the environmental sector after graduation. As students (and parents) come to expect a certain quality of life that includes plenty of natural light, clean air, a multitude of transportation options and local and organic food, a school's eco-cred becomes an increasingly important factor in selecting the right college.

Let's take a look at what makes a college green and share some tips to help you find the right green college for you -- or your kids.

Rating the Green Schools

Finding a green college is a lot easier than it sounds, thanks at least in part to the folks at the Princeton Review and Sustainable Endowments Institute.

To determine a school's greenness, the Princeton Review rates four-year colleges on the health and sustainability of on-campus life, the schools' efforts to prepare students for green jobs and create environmentally responsible citizens as well as their policies regarding clean energy and the environment.

Based on these criteria, 11 schools earned spots on the Princeton Review's Green Rating Honor Roll. The schools include state universities such as Arizona State University at Tempe, private colleges like Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and Ivy League campuses like Harvard and Yale. Each of these schools received a 99, the highest possible score on the evaluation. The Honor Roll also recognizes College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, for its carbon-neutral campus, Emory University in Atlanta for its alternatively fueled shuttle fleet and the University of New Hampshire for its organic dairy farm education and research center.

The College Sustainability Report Card, a project of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, offers another point of view on green schools. It evaluated 300 schools with the largest endowments in the U.S. and Canada using 43 indicators in nine categories -- administration, climate change and energy, green building, food and recycling, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities and shareholder engagement.

The Report Card recognizes 15 overall college sustainability leaders. These schools -- including Brown University, Dartmouth College, Oberlin University, University of British Columbia, University of Washington and University of Vermont -- received an overall grade of A- across all categories. Forty-three schools were named overall campus sustainability leaders. These schools -- including Bowdoin College, Colorado State University, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, Pennsylvania State University and Seattle University -- scored an A- on all campus sustainability measures. Finally, the 14 endowment sustainability leaders -- including Amherst College, Clark University, Earlham College, Swathmore College and the University of Minnesota -- received an A- or better across the three endowment categories.

Other outlets provide additional info on green schools: The Sierra Club has compiled a list of 10 green schools and five schools that are far from green. Even the 2009 Kaplan College Guide provides information for eco-minded students. The new guide profiles 25 green schools and 10 green careers.

DIY Research

Colleges are constantly updating their green practices, so don't rely completely on someone else's rankings. Be sure to ask your own questions when you visit the school.

Ask if any campus buildings are LEED certified -- or if the school plans to retrofit any buildings to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. Find out how much of the dining hall's menu comes from local and organic sources, if the buildings are cleaned with green supplies and if pesticides are used on the school grounds. Explore transportation options -- are buses free and frequent, does the school offer a Zipcar program?

Of course, don't forget about academics and student activities. Explore course options in environmental studies or sustainability and find out about student-run environmental organizations.

Finally, turn on your green radar as you walk across the campus. Are students carrying reusable water bottles and coffee mugs? Do you see lots of bike racks -- with plenty of bikes in them? Take a look at bulletin boards: Do they advertise green-oriented events?

If the campus meets at least some of your own green criteria -- not to mention other important factors like academics, advising and social opportunities -- consider applying. And remember: While not every school may be 100% green, once you arrive on campus you can take an active role in advocating for improvements.
Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.