Parents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over spring break to visit colleges with their teenagers. If you are on a tight budget or your family schedules are too cramped to fit in an actual road trip, you may want to consider turning to the Internet to take virtual college road trips.
You are probably thinking that’s a great idea, but where should I go to start compiling lists of schools to consider? How worthwhile are colleges’ and universities’ official sites?
Parents and students can get a wealth of valuable material on individual schools, the SAT and the ACT, financial aid, and more. But it’s also easy to waste a lot of time surfing the Web, if you don’t know where to go.
Tisha Green Rinker, Connections Academy’s national manager of school counseling, and her team provide college planning and guidance services to Connections Academy students and continuously explore the “best of the Web” college information resources. Below is a list of her recommended resources that can help you in the college selection process. The list includes information on four-year public and private institutions, community colleges, certification programs, college applications, college prep, and finical aid. Our school counselors recommend that students stay away from social media resources like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, as the information they provide is oftentimes too subjective and not always reliable.
Our Top Picks of College Planning Resources Online
- Virtual College Campus Tours
Tour a college campus online without leaving the comfort of your home. eCampusTours.com is a college planning website featuring 360° x 360° virtual college tours of over a thousand college campuses.
- Virtual College Tours
CollegeView.com enables students to search for a college by majors, location, tuition, fees, and more — and will match the results based on search preferences.
- Online College Fairs
CollegeWeekLive is a free virtual college fair that connects students with hundreds of colleges and universities from around the world. It offers students the same benefits as a traditional college fair — in a virtual setting. Students can see live streaming video presentations from admissions representatives, visit virtual booths to ask questions, and get more information.
- U.S. News and World Report’s College Rankings
U.S. News and World Report provides an annual ranking of colleges nationwide.
- Quality Liberal Arts Colleges
Colleges That Change Lives schools are a distinctive group of quality liberal arts colleges that are ideal for students seeking a top-notch higher education outside of the Ivy League.
- Find Your Major
MyMajors.com features an online college major quiz to help students pick a major based on their interests.
- Choose the Right Career
Career choice may be central to the college search itself. The ASVAB Career Exploration Program helps students get a sense of possible career choices that suit their personalities, interests, and abilities.
- Create a List of Preferred Schools
Put together a list of 10 to 20 potential schools of interest. You can use College Board’s College Search MatchMaker tool to build your list of favorite schools. It provides several search criteria to narrow down the results. If you create an account, you can save your search criteria and save results to your own college list to reference at a later time.
- Get in Touch with Schools
College Outlook is a free college planning resource for high schoolers to find and investigate colleges and to actually get in touch with them. The site also gives suggested application timelines, essay and admissions tips, test prep advice, interactive maps, and more.
Get an Insider’s Point of View
- CollegeProwler.com is the online version of the popular print college guidebook written by students, for students, and it can help teens go beyond a school’s official website or catalogue to get an insider’s look at what actual, current college students say about their school.
- A similar site, Unigo.com, promises to “tell you what the colleges won’t.”
Submit Admission Applications
- CommonApplication.org is used by more than 400 colleges nationwide; this saves the student time, since one application can be used for multiple colleges.
Get Financial Aid, Student Loans, or Scholarships
- College.gov, a U.S. federal government site, gives families “financial aid 101” information, and helps them find available financial resources, like scholarships, grants, and loans.
- Most colleges require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to provide grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.
- American Education Services (AES) is one of the nation’s leading providers of student financial aid services and can help you understand the process before, during, and after college.
- AES also offers great resources to help think about, choose, and pay for college at EducationPlanner.org.
- FastWeb.com offers thousands of scholarship opportunities, arranged by category, such as by College or Major, for High School Juniors or High School Seniors, and more.
Test Prep Study Resources
- Most families know to register students for the ACT at ACT, Inc., but fewer know that it also offers lots of great free ACT studying resources, including study tips, sample questions — even complete tests.
- College Board offers similar study resources for the SAT reasoning and subject tests, and for Advanced Placement tests, too.
- Number2.com provides free online test preparation for the ACT and SAT college admissions tests.
Don’t forget to take a look at the official college and university sites of your choice. It is still a great starting point to “dig in” on a particular school, because it gives a good overview of the college or university, its facilities, academic offerings, tuition, athletics, and more.
Once you narrowed down the list of your favorite schools, you can arrange for an actual visit to the college. Websites will never replace an actual campus tour.
Did we miss any? Let us know what other websites you have found helpful during your college search.