The Virtual College Road Trip: Visiting Campus from the Comfort of Home

Top 10 Sites and Virtual College Planning Strategies for High Schoolers

BALTIMORE (March 30, 2011) — Parents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over spring break to visit colleges with their teenagers. But trekking around the country may not be feasible for many families today who are struggling with tight finances and busy work schedules.  That’s why more families than ever are turning to the Internet to take virtual college road trips.

But knowing where to go online for college exploration and virtual visits can be a daunting task for parents, says Tisha Green Rinker, National Manager of School Counseling at Connections Academy, a leading provider of full-time virtual public schools. Where should you go to start compiling lists of schools to investigate?  How worthwhile are college and university’s official sites?  How about financial aid and planning resources?

“We still suggest that our students visit schools they’re seriously interested in, and web sites will never replace an actual campus tour,” observes Rinker. “But we strongly recommend families start their college exploration on the Internet, since there’s so much great higher education information online today. 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—or to get inaccurate or biased information. Our team of professional school counselors provides college planning and guidance services to more than 30,000 students, and they’ve combed the Internet for the ‘best of the web’ college information resources.”

Here are Connections Academy’s 10 best “Virtual College Road Trip” web sites, and tips for parents and teens to visit to start investigating colleges, including four-year public and private institutions, community colleges and certification programs. Notably absent:  social media resources, like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. The school counselors tell students to steer clear of social media resources because the information they provide is too subjective, and not always reliable.


1. —Many teens aren’t sure what subjects they might like to study in college, which of course affects how you even start searching for schools. features an online college major quiz to help students pick a major based on their interests.

2. —Likewise, some high school juniors may be starting their college search without having any idea what they’d like to do professionally, after college. This isn’t an issue for some families, who are just fine with letting their teen decide about a career down the road. For others, though, career choice may be central to the college search itself. To help students get a sense of possible career choices that suit their personalities, interests and abilities, the Connections Academy school counselors suggest, a career exploration site centered on a nationally-normed, multi-aptitude test battery that high schools and post-secondary schools have given to students since 1968, and is now available free of charge to high school students.

3. —Once students have an idea of possible majors and/or careers, they can begin creating a target school list. The counselors suggest students start their college exploration by casting a wide net, and putting together a big list of potential schools of interest—10-20 schools, they advise, for further investigation and research. The Collegeboard site (from the folks who administer the SATs) has a great ‘College MatchMaker’ tool that lets students create an initial list of schools that meet their needs by selecting different criteria, such as geographic location, setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic offerings, athletic programs, and more.

4. Official college and university sites —According to the counselors, a college or university’s official web site is 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. In addition to reviewing basic academic and admissions information, students should also check out campus photos and video tours. Some schools even offer web-cams that offer a real-time glimpse into campus activities.

5. —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 information—even IM or video chat with counselors or current college students, to get an insider’s perspective.

6. —College Outlook is free college planning resource for high schoolers to find and investigate colleges of interest to them, and to actually get in touch with them, too. The site also gives suggested application timelines, essay and admissions tips, test prep advice, and more.

7. —This online version of the popular print college guidebook written by students, for students, can help teens go beyond a school’s official web site or catalogue and get an insider’s look at what actual, current college students say about their school. A similar site,, promises to ‘tell you what the colleges won’t.”

8. — Given the cost of a higher education today, getting top notch financial planning and financial aid information is a top priority for just about every family. The Connections Academy counselors suggest starting at, a U.S. federal government site. gives families “financial aid 101” information, helps them find available financial resources, like scholarships, grants and loans. It also has the official FAFSA student form to complete to apply for federal student aid.

9. — Another great free site that helps teens and their parents think about, choose and pay for college, is from American Education Services (AES), one of the nation's leading providers of student financial aid services.

10. —Most families know that this is the site where students register for the ACT, but fewer know that it also offers lots of great free ACT studying resources, including study tips, sample questions—even complete tests. offers similar study resources for the SAT reasoning and subject tests, and Advanced Placement tests, too.

About Connections Academy
Connections Academy is a leading, fully accredited provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual schooling for students in grades K through 12. Through tuition-free public schools, and full-time and part-time private school programs, Connections Academy delivers superior, personalized education for students, with the freedom and flexibility to experience our online learning community from anywhere. The combination of certified teachers, a proven curriculum, technology tools, and community experiences creates a supportive and successful online learning opportunity for families and children who want an individualized approach to education. In the 2011–2012 school year, Connections Academy will serve students in 22 states via 23 virtual public schools. It serves students worldwide through the online private school, National Connections Academy. Connections Academy offers grades K through 12, though some public school programs do not offer all grades. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education. For more information, call 800-382-6010 or visit