The College Search Process, 2.0

Technology has raised a generation of tech-fluent teens, and the Internet has placed millions of data points at their fingertips, invigorating a streamlined "College Search 2.0."
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In the media coverage surrounding emerging trends in the college admissions process, what often gets lost in the noise of rising and falling admissions standards and controversial changes to the SAT is an issue that is actually among the most relevant to students and their parents: how to identify the college or university that will be the best fit for the student. Indeed, technology has raised a generation of tech-fluent teens, and the Internet has placed millions of data points at their fingertips, invigorating a streamlined "College Search 2.0."

One of the most advantageous elements of the college search process -- the fact that students have thousands of schools to choose from -- can often be one of the most paralyzing. High school guidance counselors generally advise college-bound students to apply to five to eight different schools. Think about it: five to eight schools, out of thousands. That's a tall task for anyone, let alone a high school student. Mastering the nuances of the college search process is a daunting task, as by the time most students have figured out how to avoid the pitfalls, perils and common traps, they're already college freshmen and looking back in hindsight about how they should have done things differently.

Most often, College Search 2.0 involves an intense bout of online research, starting with ranking websites such as US News & World Report, The Princeton Review, Forbes, and others.

Considerations at this stage of the search include:

  • Type -- Public, private, women's college, HBCU, faith-based, two- or four-year, etc.
  • Academic programs -- Does the school zest technology fields like MIT or Carnegie Mellon, or is it a strong liberal arts institution? Even if you don't know what you want to study, you probably know what you like, so make conscious decisions about what types of majors you want available to you.
  • Location -- Is the campus in a city, suburb or rural area? What else is around the campus?
  • Tuition and cost of living -- Take into account public vs. private tuition rates, in-state vs. out of state and so forth. Federal law requires that every school post a net price calculator online, so if you can't find the data elsewhere, go straight to the school's website. Don't forget to factor in housing and incidentals.
  • Financial aid -- Some schools are able to offer more financial aid than others. Starting your career with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt may feel worth it if it means having an Ivy League name on your resume, but that's a decision you and our family can make only after you have all the facts.

Also worth taking into account: graduation rates, average debt repayment over earnings, post-graduation employment rates, athletics and student life.

After a rough list is assembled, students can be left with anywhere from 10 to 20 colleges or universities. For some, this means they're ready to start sending out applications. However, for most, this means more narrowing, either through campus visits, interviews or other means.

Eighty-three percent of high school students only visit zero to four campuses physically during their college search. Resources and time can be limiting factors, and many students are understandably cautious about applying to colleges they've never seen. Until recently, this left students in a tough position. The advent of technological innovations, like YouVisit's virtual walking tours, are now making it possible for students to walk through and explore college campuses as if they were physically there. The bottom line is that high school students should think twice before making plans to live and study at a campus they have never even seen.

The arsenal of College Search 2.0 tools should include not only college rankings and virtual tours, but also interacting with schools of interest on social media to get a taste for their values, tone, and culture. It is also very important for prospective students to spend time reading student reviews online and getting first person feedback from current students and alumni.

The college or university that students choose not only shapes the next four years of their lives, but also the trajectory of their entire career, so it's time to begin mastering College Search 2.0 and leveraging the new technologies that are available to prospective students and parents. Happy hunting!

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