Letting Your Fingers Do the Walking: Researching Colleges

Even as the seniors continue to submit applications and start the wait for their college admissions letters, juniors are starting to think about the college process. Spring break and the summer before senior year are great times to visit colleges. However, before you sign up for a whirlwind, five-day, ten campus tour, it is important to start researching colleges even before you book your plane tickets and plan your itinerary. A few hours spent at home researching colleges can save you and your family lots of time and money, for this research can help you decide if a school is worth visiting and what to look for if you do visit.

Get a Good Guidebook. Although a lot of information is readily available online, a good college guidebook, such as the Fiske Guide or the Princeton Review series, includes a great deal of the important information on colleges, such as contact information, student population, and admissions statistics, in one easily accessible place. Many guides also offer unbiased opinions on the schools’ top academic departments and majors. These guides make a good starting point for basic research.

Look at the School’s Web Site. Many college websites have a great deal of information for prospective students. Besides listing the different options that are available for learning more about the school, such as visits to your area by admissions representatives, the college website can also give you an idea of what majors the school offers and what activities and clubs, such as sports and performing arts, are available. If you have a specific major in mind, you should look at the department website to see what the department requires for the major and if the school’s department is a good match for your interests and aspirations.

Get an Insider’s Perspective. Let’s face it: many of the student quotes and videos on the official school sites are meant to accentuate the positive and portray the schools in the best possible light. While this may be helpful in getting a general idea of what a college offers, these opinions are certainly focused on the positive. Luckily, sites like Unigo and Youniversity TV offer an insider’s look at colleges by allowing current college students and alums to post pictures, reviews, and videos about their colleges on the website. Unigo also includes the posters’ demographic information, such as gender, race, and political leaning, which give the reviews more context than what is usually written in guidebooks.

Also, don’t hesitate to ask friends and relatives who attend (or have attended) the school about their experiences. By hearing a variety of opinions and perspectives on a school, you will get a better sense of the school’s community and if that school might be worth visiting or exploring further.

See If Schools Make the Grade. It can be very overwhelming if you start looking at numerous schools and many of the details and opinions you read might start to blend together. To help you keep your facts straight, take notes as you research the schools and list your reactions, both positive and negative, to the school. After you have finished your research, give each school a grade to see which one best suits your needs.

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