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Choosing which school you want to attend and sorting through degree options are some of the most stressful parts of college applications – but they don’t have to be!

Whether you’ve had your dream school in mind for years, aren’t convinced college is for you, or are completely overwhelmed by all of the great options out there, there are tools available to help you narrow down your selection, stay organized, and be as effective as possible when it comes time to make your final selections.

If college is the next step, you should keep these incredible online resources at hand. By accessing quality information, staying organized, and being aware of all of the information you need to collect, you’ll be cutting out a lot of the anxiety that comes from the college admissions process.

Picking a school

1. Rankings

CollegeRankings

Nothing is more helpful when choosing a college than understanding how it stacks up against other schools.

This isn’t to say that the number one schools on these lists are going to be the right choice for you, but it is definitely worth some investigation to see where schools rank on not only overall lists, but also on smaller scales that measure student satisfaction, class size, professor interactions, dorm life, and on-campus clubs!

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One great place to start for unbiased rankings is the Washington Monthly College Guide. This fantastic online resource ranks colleges by degree type, value, and overall, while also providing information about grant availability, cost, and acceptance information.

2. Google Maps

RuralUniversity

It’s all well and good to have your heart set on a college based solely on its on-campus qualities, but it’s important to consider the geographic qualities of potential schools too!

Do a quick search of your top schools on Google Maps to get an idea of where they are located, how accessible they are via transit, how far they are from where you currently live, and the cool attractions that may be nearby. Maybe, you can talk a walk around the campus with Google Street View as well.

Truth is, you will spend most of your degree on campus, but you want to enjoy your new city and local areas too! Make sure that they are in-line with the kind of college experience that you have been picturing for yourself (for example, if you like metropolitan areas… Washington and Lee University in rural Virginia likely isn’t a good fit for you, even if a program sounds great!).

3. Net Price Calculators

HarvardFinancialAid

Unfortunately, cost is a huge factor for most students when choosing a school.

All schools are now required to have a Net Price Calculator located somewhere on their admissions website. Be sure to look for this feature, as it will tell you not only what basic tuition is, but also what you will need to pay in administrative fees, insurance fees, residence fees, and student union fees — all of which can add up incredibly quickly!

Many of these calculators will also allow you to input personal information about yourself that can help you factor in potential financial aid.

This feature is great for getting a realistic understanding of how much you are likely to pay for your education, but remember that this is an estimate only — not a guarantee of any scholarships or funding!

4. Manage Your Credentials with Parchment

ParchmentCollege

Parchment is an amazing online application that can help you to sort through the overwhelming number of colleges available to find ones that best fit your academic achievement level and interests.

You can create a list of colleges that interest you, submit your information, and then see the likelihood of you being accepted to said colleges. The application will also suggest colleges that it considers to be best matched to your strengths. You can also use filters to see where people similar (or different!) to you are most interested in attending.

Picking a Program

1. Evernote

Evernote

Even after you’ve managed to narrow down your hundreds of potential options for post-secondary education to a select few schools, the research is far from over.

In fact, researching individual programs at the colleges you are interested in can sometimes be the most overwhelming part of the research process.

To help yourself stay sane, download Evernote and use it religiously to store and sort the information that you find on each program you are interested in. Unfortunately, many school websites can be like a maze, and you may never find a webpage again unless you clip it to Evernote How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual I see so many advantages to Evernote and we will explore some of them in depth later. But basically it all comes down to this: we are all becoming digital packrats. Read More !

Evernote also gives you space to record your impressions of the program, what you like and dislike, and any other annotations that you think will be helpful as you deliberate.

2. Collect Accurate Data with College Navigator

CollegeNavigator

College Navigator is a fantastic website that offers information based on information collected by the federal government. This is one of the best places for accurate, current, unbiased information.

The college search feature is unique because of your ability to “Browse for Programs” which allows you to add criteria to your search based on the availability of very specific programs.

If your program of study is as important to you as the school you study at, you can quickly eliminate colleges that don’t offer courses in your preferred area of study.

Understanding the Admissions Process

1. Admitted.ly

Admittedly

Unfortunately, every school has a slightly different admissions process, and many programs within a college will have their own specifications on top of that.

For this reason, it is essential that you understand the admissions process for the school and program that you select — and Admitted.ly is one of the best online resources available for this purpose.

You can use Admitted.ly to help you match your interests with colleges (much like Parchment), but you can also use the platform’s lessons and tools to help you understand everything there is to know about the process for applying to colleges. Also, you can interact directly with current students, alumni, and application experts for any remaining questions that you have!

2. Statfuse

Statfuse

When you’re applying to colleges, it’s incredibly important to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your application.

Statfuse is a great resource for this, as it has a “Chanculator” that will help to highlight the likelihood of you receiving an acceptance at your top choices. Fill in a quick survey that focuses on your background, academic history, and extra-curricular involvement and you will instantly receive a summary of your chances at a particular institution.

Once you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you’ll be able to tweak your applications to focus on your impressive accomplishments and bolster your weaker areas.

3. Online Communities

ApplyingtoCollege SubReddit

There is nothing more helpful than talking to an experienced person about your concerns regarding the admissions process at your preferred schools.

Look for online forums, college subreddits, Twitter handles, blogs targeted at college students, 10 College Blogs You Wouldn't Have Wanted To Miss As A 20-Something 10 College Blogs You Wouldn't Have Wanted To Miss As A 20-Something There's the stress that originates from the uncertainty of becoming an adult and entering the "real world". You can rest easy...you aren't alone. These blogs may provide you with new perspectives. Read More and Tumblr pages that have to do with applications, day-to-day life at your chosen schools, writing advice How To Write A Resume With The Help Of 8 Ivy School Guides How To Write A Resume With The Help Of 8 Ivy School Guides Trying to build the perfect resume? Check out these free resume tips from some of the best schools that make up the Ivy League. Read More , and empathy from other students going through the same process as you.

These communities can be found through official social media accounts of the university, unofficial blogs by students, or communities dedicated solely to the application process (although keep in mind to verify all of the information you read with an official spokesperson for the university!)

Find an online community that understands what you are going through and who can support you through the process, remind you of key dates and offer advice when you get stuck in the application process.

Seek out a community and jump right in — you will set your mind at ease, and be able to remember that you aren’t the only student dealing with the stress of college applications!

The Waiting Game

Even after your final essay has been submitted, there are still a few other online tools that can come in handy…

1. Keep Track of Deadlines

Countdown+

Just because your applications are in doesn’t mean that you’re done paying close attention to deadlines. Many schools have separate applications that are required for residences, scholarships, or even extra-curricular activities and athletic teams.

Other schools will have important information sessions that you won’t want to miss out on, or days when you can experience campus life or participate in online seminars.

Pay attention to these deadlines, and keep track of them using one of the many great reminder apps 6 Apps To Keep Track Of Time-Related Events & Activities [iPhone] 6 Apps To Keep Track Of Time-Related Events & Activities [iPhone] I love iPhone apps that solve little problems which can often be worrisome if not addressed. How many times have you needed to know when the warranty ends on a product you purchased, or when... Read More like Countdown+ so that you don’t let any of these important deadlines slip by!

2. Find Scholarships

CollegeBoard

Some scholarships and financial aid programs will require you to be accepted before you can begin applying, especially if they are directly tied to the program or college that you hope to attend.

With that being said, there are tons of financial aid opportunities available that are not linked to a particular school or program, and this is the perfect time to be applying to them!

There are a number of great scholarship search sites 5 Scholarship Search Sites To Help Students Get Financial Aid 5 Scholarship Search Sites To Help Students Get Financial Aid There are a gazillion scholarship search engines and websites on the web. Each of them could potentially lead you to a fitting scholarship that could help you save a few dollars. So, here’s looking at... Read More available for students, and using multiple sites can guarantee that you will be able to find diverse sources of scholarships and financial aid.

College Board’s Scholarship Search is an especially great resource for this, because it offers not only a fantastic financial aid search tool but also several other articles and tutorials about managing your finances and understanding loans.

3. Go Through College Readiness Checklists

There’s more to being ready for college than academics and applications.

Go through some online checklists about college preparedness and see how you are measuring up – while you should not base your entire life on a checklist you find online, you should be able to get a pretty clear picture about the life skills you could work on before moving out.

  • College Grazing has a great quiz that helps measure your own interpretation of whether or not you consider yourself ready to begin college.
  • Unigo has 8 key life skills that you should have before taking this step away from home and beginning your new life at college (it’s surprising how many people don’t know how to work a washing machine when they first move away from home!)
  • College Bound lists 31 key pieces of information that range from the date student loan interest rates are set (July 1st!) to suggestions for how to get along with your first roommate
  • Lastly, parents might want to check out this list by Edutopia to see if there are any last-minute parental advice sessions that you may want to have with your child before sending them off.

It’s also a great idea to reach out to other college students you may know (even if they are a friend’s older sibling) and ask them how they prepared for their first year of college looking back.

Also, if you find yourself with even more spare time, remember that college admissions regularly consider social media profiles The Social Media & College Admissions [INFOGRAPHIC] The Social Media & College Admissions [INFOGRAPHIC] This is the time of year when students are receiving their school grades and trying to get their places in university. But for many, those attempts will end in failure with a rejection letter coming... Read More when making their final decisions — it might be time to clean up your social profiles Cleaning Up Your Facebook Profile: What The New Facebook Cleanup Tool Won't Do [Weekly Facebook Tips] Cleaning Up Your Facebook Profile: What The New Facebook Cleanup Tool Won't Do [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook's Privacy Cleanup tool has triggered a massive push in profile cleanups, which is great, however some people are following up with a cleanup trend and not liking the results too much. Read More and double-check your privacy settings!

Making it Through the Stress of Applications

There’s no doubt about it.

With essays and deadlines and keeping all your research organized, college applications are one of the most stressful processes out there.

Thankfully, there are a ton of online tools and resources that can help keep you sane throughout the entire process, leaving you with some time to sit back and enjoy your senior year.

And just think — by the time the stress of applications is over, it will be time to start looking for back to school apps Back To School? iOS Tips & Apps To Ease You Into Student Life Back To School? iOS Tips & Apps To Ease You Into Student Life Going back to school after an endless summer holiday is harder than the Einstein solid, but your iPhone can help make term time easier. Read More (…okay, maybe that’s not the most helpful thing to think about).

What have you found to be the most stressful part of applying for college? Have you found any other great online tools to use?

  1. Ashutosh Jain
    August 1, 2015 at 6:09 am

    Would the websites mentioned in the post work for graduate school as well?

  2. fcd76218
    July 29, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    The most important part of the selection and admissions process is to visit the prospective schools. No amount of online research can beat the first person impressions of the campus, of personally talking to students, faculty and administrators. If possible, schedule a second visit to a school at a time other than the Open House. You will get a truer reflection of campus life. Online information about schools is designed to give a good impression. For example, all pictures are taken on a sunny day and of happy, smiling students.

    I have gone through the process twice. My one daughter knew from the start which school she wanted to attend so visits to other schools were just on the off chance that she might change her mind. She didn't :-)

    With my other daughter, we visited about 15 schools, one of them being Washington and Lee. About half an hour into the tour, my daughter decided that Washington & Lee was not for her. It wasn't because it is a relatively small school in a small town because she chose Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va, about 60 miles away. She did not like that Washington & Lee campus was adjacent to that of Virginia Military Institute. The two schools are so close that they share some of the parking lots.

    • Briallyn Smith
      July 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Thanks so much for this comment - visiting prospective schools is definitely *such* an important part of choosing a good school (I think it's hilarious that your daughter actually toured the school I used as an example in this article!)

      If travelling to a campus is financially and logistically possible, then I definitely believe prospective students should do that - how else will you truly get the "feel" of a campus otherwise?

      With that being said, for some students who don't have the finances or who may be international students and are unable to travel to campuses, Google Maps might just have to be a stand-in for now!

      Thanks again for sharing your experiences - you're so right, and your daughters are lucky to have had such great parental guidance when choosing their schools! :)

      • fcd76218
        July 30, 2015 at 2:17 pm

        "Google Maps might just have to be a stand-in for now!"
        One item that Google Maps will not show you is the number and placement of Blue Light phones. Blue Light phones are connected directly to campus or municipal police department. Having daughters, I am more sensitive to the issues of security than if I had sons.

        Another item that Google Maps will not show you is the character of the neighborhood that surrounds the school. Google Maps will not have a big notation over questionable neighborhoods declaring "There be dragons." Columbia University in New York City is one of the best universities in the world. However, it is located in the southern end of Harlem. To those unfamiliar with the geography and demographics of New York City that may not seem like a big deal. But the safety/security concerns are much different at Columbia than they would be at Washington & Lee which is located in the hunt country of western Virginia.

        Google Maps is a very good informational tool, especially for those who cannot visit the prospective campus(es) in person and I am not trying to diminish the service. I am just pointing out some of the information that it does not provide.

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