Prab Singh heads CollegeSource (http://thecollegesource.net/), an organisation that provides life coaching to adolescents and support to their family through the process of deciding their higher education and career goals.
In Finding ‘Best-Fit’ Colleges, Part 1, we explored the importance of defining your preferences first. The next challenge is in ‘mining’ the college websites to find if they have what you want. When I think back on my own process in high school, there was no Internet and information was hard to come by. Students now have a different problem, TOO MUCH information! I am not sure which is worse really, as anyone can pay a designer to make a website look amazing!
The Master List: With my own students, I actually create a master list of colleges for them after discussion of the above preferences. I take into consideration the academic profile of a student and the student’s academic choice of study and then create a list of about 40-50 colleges that are grouped into categories of VERY SELECTIVE, REACH, TARGET, SAFE, with about 10 schools in each category. Doing this on your own can be more challenging, but you could try starting with the resource in CollegeBoard (makers of the SAT) called Big Future: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/. They will ask you questions on several parameters and then suggest many colleges. You could then use the college’s average SAT scores (also available on CollegeBoard) to determine which category of school would go in for you. Another similar resource can be found at CollegeXpress: http://www.collegexpress.com/college/search/.
The Short List: Though narrowing down to 50 from 3000 is a great thing, 50 schools are still too many to do in-depth research on. You need to do some quick slashes first. Don’t worry about why you slash a school, because you can always come back to the master list later. The goal should be to focus on bringing this to a more manageable number so that you can begin your research.
Navigating through the college websites: I would actually suggest that you put certain time constraints on yourself so that you do not get frustrated by how much time you spend. For example, I would spend 20 minutes on the college prospective student part of the website, 5 min in the major (s) that I am interested in, 5 min on the organizations and clubs, 5 min scanning various blogs and 5 minutes searching the site for my own interests if I did not come across them. Copy and Paste and take notes so that you can come back to these when writing the “Why this school” essay later.