These days, the amount of information available to you about each school can be overwhelming. An obvious first step is to go to a college’s website, but by the time you’ve gone to a few you’ll notice that they start to look virtually identical. It can be hard to figure out what distinguishes schools from one another. Noted below are some research methods that we recommend.
It is vitally important that you keep notes—in whatever formator device makes sense for you—on what you find out during your research process. You can easily spend a few hours diving into books and websites and learning all about a group of schools, only to be completely stupefied an hour later if someone asks you to name one specific thing you liked about a given school. College research involves absorption and organization of a wealth of information. Keep track of what you’ve learned or you’ll find yourself going back to do it all over again.
Phase 1 of Researching a School: Is this School Worth a Deeper Dive?
A college search book can provide a good first glance into a school. While search books may seem antiquated, they remain one of the best resources available precisely because they are limited in the quantity of information they can share about each school; the entries are distilled to the most important things to know about academic programs, social life, location, school culture, etc.
We have several books available for you to borrow in our College Counseling offices, or you can take the plunge and purchase one that suits you. If you need a starting point, a favorite general-purpose book among our team members is the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Other good options include (but are certainly not limited to): The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and The Best 382 Colleges (by the Princeton Review).
Phase 2 of Researching a School: Diving Deeper
Once you’ve determined that a school warrants further research, a great first step is to contact them (by phone, email, or filling out an online form on their admissions website) indicating that you’re interested and would like to be added to their mailing list. This serves two purposes: it allows you to receive the promotional material that a school sends out (which may contain information that is helpful in your search), and it puts you on their radar as a potential applicant (which can work to your benefit at schools that track your demonstrated interest).
Next, the internet has many resources available to assist you in diving deeper into each school. Here are some websites we recommend you try out.
- Individual college websites: The school’s website can answer questions you have about availability of academic programs, clubs, or other interests that might not have been covered in depth in a short entry in a college search book. It will also be blanketed in beautiful photos of the campus—and may even offer a virtual tour—which can help you get a sense of the space and whether it appeals to you.
If you have one or more fields of academic interest in mind, a great use of the college’s website is to click into a major that interests you and read through the descriptions of courses available within it. Do they sound like classes you’d be excited to take? You will find that the requirements and course descriptions of the same major can vary widely between schools, and you may be able to rule in/out some schools based on what you learn from their course catalogue.
- Unigo.com & Niche.com: These are two popular websites that students use to answer questions and post “reviews” of their schools. These sites can be a wealth of information on a wide variety of topics, but make sure to read a solid handful of reviews or answers to each question and look for trends in what you read without putting too much stock in any one person’s reply. If you do that, these sites can help you develop a good sense of what it’s like to attend school there.