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
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!
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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!
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
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, and Tumblr pages that have to do with applications, day-to-day life at your chosen schools, writing advice, 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
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.
2. Find Scholarships
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 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 when making their final decisions — it might be time to clean up your social profiles 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 (…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?