Choosing a College Planning for College

Step 3: Gathering Information on Colleges

Written by CB Experts

Okay! We’re on our way to selecting appropriate colleges. You’ve completed your self-evaluation and know yourself a little bit better, and you’ve identified the specific characteristics you would like in your ideal college. Now you need to put these results to use and find the colleges that seem to match your needs and interests.

To select a college for the next four years is an important and expensive decision, one that should not be made on the basis of where your friends are going or on what seems to be the “cool” place to go. In order to make the best decision regarding your college choice, you need to do in-depth research on colleges. The bad news is that this will be a time-consuming endeavor; the good news is there are lots of resources available to you to help you gather information about colleges and to find those the colleges that best match what you are seeking.

There are three major categories of resources available to you: technology, people, and print resources. Let’s start with the first.

Technological Resources

1. Computer Search Software Programs

Once you know the specific characteristics in a college that you are seeking, a computer search program would be a great starting point to gather information. Most high school guidance offices offer this type of resource to their students. Among the most popular computer-assisted programs are the Guidance Information System (GIS), and the CHOICES college and career search program. You should schedule an appointment with your guidance counselor so that initially he/she can sit with you at the computer to help you navigate through the software.

2. The Internet

The internet has provided an easy and quick way for you to gather information about colleges. You can go directly to a college web site which will provide you with most of the information that you seek and/or you could go to a variety of other college-related websites that also provide important information that you can use in your search for ideal colleges. For example, at Careers and, you can obtain lots of free information about a variety of colleges and degree programs, including such colleges. In addition, another helpful website that has connections with many colleges throughout the United States is FastWeb Education. Students from the United States can get help for free in searching for schools that match their interests, obtaining information about colleges that interest them,and accessing scholarships that might be available to them.

For those students interested in seeking a career-oriented programs, you can find information on culinary schools, and digital media schools for training in sound arts, animation, film, and computer gaming . You might also want to check out Monster Learning if you are seeking information on degree programs in Aviation, Motor Sports, Culinary Arts, Technology, Healthcare, Art & Design, and Education. You simply need to fill out a brief registration form and they will send additional information specific to the program(s) that you are interested in. Another good resource, Education-For-Careers is a free education directory that provides valuable information on schools, tips on career resources, and insight on financial assistance. Make sure you check it out. It is a super way to gather the information on schools and careers that you need!

In addition, distance learning through online schools is fast becoming the latest trend. For those students who are searching for a degree program that they can complete online, MonsterLearning and OnlineSchools are also two of the best sites to find online degree programs in a wide variety of career fields. Finally, an interesting resource devoted just to women regarding their career pathway is WomenCo. At WomenCo women can find pertinent information on colleges, careers, and financial assistance to level the playing field in careers.

3. Online Videos

You can also check out your dream school by watching free videos at FreeCollegeVideos. You can go-behind the scenes and find out what life is really like at more than 2000 colleges. And not only can you can obtain insider information from student reviews about hundreds of colleges, once you have checked out a college on your own, you can go and submit your own review at through their college survey form and possibly win $250 for your review! Students searching for colleges definitely need to check these two sites out for the inside scoop!

4. Online College Advisers

There are a number of online resources that can help pair you with a college adviser to help you in your search fort he best college. Don’t be afraid to test them out.

People Resources

1. Guidance Counselor

Hopefully, you have met with your guidance counselor several times over the past few years and have established a nice rapport with him/her. If not, the time has come for you to schedule a meeting to discuss college planning. Your guidance counselor can provide a wealth of information about various colleges and should be able to offer you names of colleges that seem to be good “fits” for you. Be sure to bring the list of the specific college characteristics you are seeking along with the notes on your self-evaluation so that you can have a good discussion during your guidance meeting. The guidance office staff can also provide you information about other students from your high school who have been admitted to schools you are considering. You can find out what those students’ SAT scores, grades, and high school course records were to compare with your own record. This information might help you assess your probability of admission to colleges on your list.

2. College Admission Representatives

Be sure to sign-up to attend meetings conducted by college admission representatives who come to visit your high school. By participating in these meetings, you will be able to acquire objective and important information about the college and have any questions you might have about the college answered by a person-in-the know. The admission rep will also be able to put a face to a name when your application is received if you make a positive impression in the meeting.

3. Currently Enrolled Students

Many colleges assign Student Ambassadors to visit high schools and present information to prospective students about their college. Although the college student’s presentation may be a bit subjective as it is the perspective of one student, it might be helpful to hear a personal account of his/her experience on campus.

4. Alumni

Colleges will invite graduates of their institution to help in student recruitment by representing them at College Nights at your local high school and by doing off-campus interviews for them. Usually these alumni are well trained and can provide current information about costs, admission policies, new programs on campus, and other pertinent information about their own personal experience at the college. However, be mindful of the fact that many of these alums may not have returned to the college campus for many years. If this is the case, ask your guidance counselor for names of recent graduates or call the college’s admission office for that information.

Once you have names and numbers, make some calls. You can feel comfortable asking about their personal experiences. Ask what they liked about the school, what disappointed them, what some of the secrets to having a good social life on the campus are. This is your chance to find out the little known aspects about the school you are considering.

5. Teachers

Try asking a favorite teacher who knows you well for names of colleges s/he might suggest that would fit your interests and learning style. This teacher might even be an alumnus of one of your colleges on your list!

6. Parents

Your parents know you better than any other person, and, for this reason alone, their input might prove to be very valuable. They may offer some insights into several colleges that they have gathered through their own research and/or through talking about colleges with their own friends and relatives. Keep in mind, though, that it is up to you to “check out” what they tell you through your own research!

7. Friends

Your friends who are currently going through the same college selection process might prove to be an important source of information for you. They might visit a college and share their feelings about what they saw with you which, in effect, might entice you to add that college to your list or vice versa. It is most important to be careful not to let other people’s perceptions influence you too much; it is perfectly fine to listen to other people’s viewpoints, but in the end you must make your OWN decision after you have done your own research.

8. Independent College Consultant

You might want to access the services of a professional college counselor or educational consultant to help guide you through the college process, especially if your high school guidance counselor does not have the time to provide the individualized attention that you seek. These trained independent professionals have both the knowledge of colleges and the time necessary to closely supervise your college planning and application work. Most college consultants have had years of experience in the field through their work in college admissions offices or as high school college counselors.

How do you find one of these?! Sometimes your high school guidance counselor can refer you to a college consultant. Also word of mouth is a good way to find a college consultant. If neither of these puts you in touch with a college consultant, try searching the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) online for consultants in your area.

Warning! Just as the number of professional college consulting businesses has markedly increased throughout the nation so has the number of consultants who are not adequately prepared to provide such a service. It is extremely important to inquire about the consultant’s credentials before hiring a person to guide you through the admissions process. Too many consultants simply are hanging a shingle declaring themselves to be educational consultants without any specialized training.

Print Resources

1. Objective College Guidebooks

These college handbooks provide objective facts such as type of institution, location, freshman class profile, academic requirements, admissions selectivity, costs, academic majors, athletics, and contact information. A few examples of these guidebooks include:

  • The College Board’s College Handbook
  • Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges
  • Cass and Birnbaum‘s Comparative Guide to American Colleges 
  • Peterson’s Annual Guide to Four Year Colleges.

You should definitely use one or a combination of these guidebooks in your research on colleges.

2. Subjective College Guidebooks

These books provide both objective facts and a narrative summation of the college regarding academics, campus life, setting, type of students enrolled and other personal impressions of the particular college. Keep in mind that the anecdotal information provided is from the viewpoint of the author and some students who attend these colleges may not agree with the author’s assessment. It is up to you to validate the information through conversations with your college counselor and through your own observations when you visit the college. Some of the most popular books of this type are:

  • The Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward Fiske
  • The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges by Yale Daily News Staff
  • The Best 361 Colleges by the Princeton Review.

These books are readable and entertaining and should be included as part of your college research.

3. College Catalogs and Viewbooks

Perhaps the best resource of all that you should use in researching a college is its very own catalog. The catalog describes in detail the mission of the institution, its rules and policies, the academic programs offered on campus, the requirements for completion of the various degree programs and the credentials of the faculty. A college viewbook is much more of a marketing tool for the college than the catalog in that it presents a flavor of the college designed to further your interest in that particular school.

4. Ranking Guides

One of the better and more reliable ranking guides is Rugg’s Recommendations on the College’s. Rugg’s gives information about individual departments at colleges so you can find out which programs are strong, not just an overall rank of a school. That said, it is still important to visit the college yourself to corroborate the information found in this publication.

Warning! Beware of the rankings of colleges published by magazines on an annual basis. Colleges can and do manipulate data in their best interests to help raise their ranking. As they say in statistics, numbers can lie!

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.