“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”-John Wooden
If students take ownership of their college process, the decision-making skills they learn now will be used again and again as they move through life, whether searching for and applying to graduate programs, looking for work, buying a car, buying a home, or making any major purchase. Students really owe it to themselves to take some time now to do this right.
Parents and students can find terrific resources in multiple areas of the Internet. I recommend they start at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s website. There they will find a lot of useful tools, including NACAC’s Late High School Awareness and College Planning Guide, which has a lot of useful checklists and worksheets students can print out and use as they move through the college process. Many books -- e.g., Admission Matters by Springer, Reider, and Morgan -- have companion websites with worksheets you can download for free. And if you prefer viewing videos with advice on the college process, check out PossibilityU - recommended by students.
That being said, the College Process section of my classroom’s Resource Room content area included, before being moved here, the following links.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
While in high school, you may have your sights set on your "dream" school and you may push yourself beyond what's healthy to meet what you think will be that college's expectations of their applicants. Before you head down this often unhealthy path, I want you to understand the effects stress has on your body. The earlier you realize the risks of pushing yourself beyond what's healthy, the better. No bumper sticker is worth your physical, emotional, or mental health.
Once you reach your junior year and begin your college search in earnest, you need to first…
Know Yourself: The better students understand themselves ‑- their strengths and weaknesses, needs and wants ‑- at the start of this process, the easier it will be for them to recognize a good-fit college when they see one. The inventories below are a sampling of inventories out there designed to help students better understand themselves. The results are not set in stone but should give students some food for thought.
“The Seven Rules About Taking Career Tests” - this article reminds us these tools just give us food for thought.
Learning Style - while most students on IEPs learn how they learn best, many students do not. It doesn’t hurt to use a learning styles inventory to better understand how you learn best. This site will give students some study skills tips based on their learning style.
College Personality - this inventory, based on Steven Antonoff’s inventory in his book College Match, will help students think about the type of learning environment they’ll be most comfortable in as well as help them gauge their college readiness.
Career Clusters - this inventory gives students an idea of careers in which people who scored similarly found the most satisfaction.
Evaluate Yourself - whether they’re sitting down with an interviewer or brainstorming for their personal statement, this list of questions from Bob Turba’s Cyberguidance website will hold students in good stead in the college process.
Personality - some colleges will use a personality inventory to help match students with their first roommate. Here’s a quick sample of a personality inventory -- a free, simplified version of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), called the Cognitive Type Inventory, at personalitypathways.com. Students may find their results change if they take the official version, or they may find their results change as they age and mature. To learn more about the MBTI, visit the official Myers-Briggs website. To learn more about their “cognitive type,” students can find free descriptions of their “type” with a quick search of the Internet (rather than purchase a report). Reminder: CollegeVale does not endorse any fee-based services at any of the links you visit.
Other personality inventories you might like to try is 16 Personalities and the quick Left-Brain/Right-Brain quiz from Sommer Sommer. How are the results of the various inventories similar? How are they different? It can be fun to try several and compare what they have to say. If there are differences, what sounds truer to you? And remember, these are just food for thought for you. If you haven't read the "Seven Rules About Taking Career Tests" article linked above, do so now.
Know Your Rights & Responsibilities: Oft neglected in college talks, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) used to provide students with clear guidelines in regard to expectations in the college process. At present, this wonderful document, the NACAC Statement of Student Rights & Responsibilities, is not available on their website, but this newer page from the College Board covers most of the guidelines to an ethical college process you need to know. If students have learning or physical disabilities, they should also see “Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities,” from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. You should also be aware of the codes of ethics that guide professionals in the process. Here is NACAC's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.
Know Some Common Terminology:
Common Data Set - Glossary of Terms begins on page 29 of the .pdf (scroll down).
Finance Glossary for Students - from NerdWallet.
Financial Aid Terminology - from FinAid.org, includes acronyms!
And Bust Some Myths:
College Rankings - from NACAC.
College and University Rankings: Caution and Controversy - from the University of Illinois
Unless you are planning to apply solely to test-optional schools, you need to know your test scores, as well as your grades, before you begin your college search. Make sure you use your full legal name when you take your tests. There should be consistency across all documentation throughout the process — applications, test scores, school transcripts, etc. — so that colleges can make sure materials reach the correct file.
SAT-ACT Concordance Tables - from College Board
SAT Score Converter - convert the old SAT score to the new SAT and the new SAT to the old SAT, from the College Board
National Merit Corporation - website of the National Merit Scholarship program. National Merit Scholarship cut-off scores vary by state and are subject to change annually. Call (847) 866-5100 to discover the current year eligibility cut-off scores for your state. CollegePlanningSimplified.com, the website of a high school college and career counselor in California, has a terrific explanation of the National Merit program you may want to read.
Free ACT (and GRE) Online Test Prep: Number2.com
Free SAT Online Test Prep: Khan Academy. Khan has teamed up with College Board to provide free test prep for the SAT.
ACT Online Test Prep: ACT (quite a few of the resources here are free, but some are fee-based).
SAT Score Use Practices by Institution - .pdf from the College Board. Always check with colleges to make sure their policies on this have not changed.
Test-Optional Schools - close to 850 schools are now test optional.
SAT Prep Resources - from The College Grants Database. Recommended by kids in Seattle, this site contains lots of useful SAT study resources.
SAT Prep on a Budget, from the Perfect Score Project. A friend recommended this on Facebook. Some great advice in here, but make sure you read the advice in the comments on calculators.
Magoosh.com - highly recommended by many counselors as an inexpensive online test prep option.
Spark Notes - free online test prep.
Free ACT Test Prep articles from Chegg.com
Note there's a new test in town: the Classic Learning Test. I'm not sure how many schools and colleges will use this, but I like that the tests are only two hours in length, taken online, and test takers receive same-day results.
Books on Testing:
The Official SAT Study Guide, from The College Board.
The Real ACT Prep Guide, from ACT.
THE COLLEGE SEARCH (also see Population-Specific):
There are dozens of search engines you can use to research colleges that fit your needs and wants. In addition to the “big book” online search options, such as Peterson’s and Princeton Review, here are some additional options for the initial college search, listed in no particular order. Some people find certain sites more intuitive than others; if you find or already have a site you like, stick with it.
Wiki College Lists - much like any NACAC listserv archive of college lists you may have saved over the years, these are anecdotal lists of colleges by major and program -- it’s important to understand the information included in these lists is only as accurate as the knowledge of the author(s). Includes listings like colleges that accept American Sign Language in lieu of a foreign language and colleges that do not require a foreign language.
College Navigator - from the federal government, College Navigator replaces the Department of Education’s College Opportunities Online Locator (COOL).
College Data 411 - this site also helps you gauge what type of financial aid package a school provides (some are more generous than others).
Community College Finder, from American Association of Community Colleges.
Big Future - from the College Board. While this is one of the “big book” online college search engines, I include it here because it includes a search criteria for “veterans counseling,” something all search engines should include.
Looking Outside the Box: Colleges that Change Lives
Looking Outside the Box: Colleges of Distinction
Looking Outside the Box: 4International Colleges & Universities - for students who want to study abroad (all four years).
CollegeAffordabilityGuide.org - search schools “ranked” by affordability by state and career.
CollegeMatcher - from CollegeMatch, a free search tool designed for low-income households.
College Express - find lists like those from Steven Antonoff’s book College Finder here.
College Greenlight - from Cappex, this search site gives you an idea of how well a college fits you and your needs.
CollegeNet - college search option provides clear information on college costs and offerings.
CollegePortraits - find comparable data for public institutions participating in the Voluntary System of Accountability, a “joint program of the American Association of State Colleges & Universities and the National Association of State Universities & Land-Grant Colleges.”
CollegeSimply - find schools with later application deadlines.
CollegeWebLD - if you will be needing special services, this fee-based search tool may be helpful, as it enables you to research and compare support services at over 500 colleges.
College View - searches for organizations, too, so it you want astrophysics and a marching band, you can find matches. From Hobson’s.
DegreeMatch.org - provides ideas for colleges based on the MBTI 16 personality types.
Fairtest.org - find test optional schools here.
Thinking about majoring in visual arts? Check out the majors listed by college at the National Portfolio Day website.
NCAA - search schools by division and league.
The Common Application - search for Common App member institutions by distance, major, etc. You can search Common App schools before registering.
National Collegiate Honors Council - find a listing of Honors programs here.
Great Books Schools
The Work Colleges
Cooperative Education Programs, this Wiki contains a listing of co-op schools.
Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges - yes, you can get a liberal arts education at a public institution!
Sierra Club and Ecoleague - find listings of green colleges here.
College listings by major, from Cappex.
GoingtoCollege.org - from Virginia Commonwealth University and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, includes a terrific college planning guide for students with disabilities.
CollegePlanningSimplified.com also has an informative page on the college process for LD students. It includes a partial listing of schools with programs for students with learning disabilities.
Consortium of University and College Intensive English Programs - a consortium of institutions with intensive English programs for foreign-language speakers.
OnlineU - this is a new search site of online degrees, from both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. Many of the institutions are brick and mortar (traditional colleges and universities) that offer online degree programs (both degrees and certificates).
State and Regional College Tuition Discounts - some states and regions enter into agreements whereby students can attend institutions in other states at in-state or reduced rates. Find information about state and regional reciprocity agreements/tuition exchanges here.
Women’s Colleges - lists women’s colleges around the country by state.
To search for programs overseas, visit International Counselors and Population-Specific —> Overseas.
NARROWING THE FIELD:
Will you feel comfortable on campus?
Only direct resources for this listed here:
Campus Culture - College Newspapers are a great resource for getting a feel for campus culture.
Campus Culture - search iTunesU for faculty lectures and tours
Campus Culture - search YouTube for faculty, student, and admission videos.
Mission Statements - search the websites of each of the schools you are considering. If the school’s mission statement rubs you the wrong way, chances are it’s not a good fit.
Will you feel safe on campus?
Campus Crime - schools are required by federal law (the Clery Act) to report campus crime. Because schools don't report all off-campus incidents, Google searches and Alerts (see below) may help with this, too, in that you may get a feel for the safety of the area surrounding the campus.
Campus Pride - find LGBT-friendly campuses at this site.
Can you picture yourself on this campus?
Visiting a campus? There are several useful travel planning tools you can use, including GoSeeCampus.com and the AAA TripTik travel planner. Daytripper University also offers suggestions on where to stay and eat while visiting a campus.
NSSE Pocket Guide to Choosing a College - this guide will help you get the most out of the college visit. I will add that it is critical studio art majors visit the departments they hope to join and meet the faculty. There can be a fairly deep divide between fine and commercial artists, and students want to make sure they feel comfortable with the department culture before applying. I expect the same can be said for any of the arts, but my experience is with studio art.
Purdue College Planning Checklist - even more questions to ask when you visit or research a college.
Go See Campus - this site has a free trip planner for planning college visits.
Campanile College Tours - this is a service designed to help busy families maximize their college trips. You provide your college list and travel dates, and they do all the logistical travel arrangements for you, making hotel and ground transportation arrangements and scheduling your time on campuses -- including tours and visits with admissions and professors, even visiting with a professor and sitting in on a class!
Campus Tours - nothing replaces a visit to a college campus, but if students cannot get there before they apply, they may find a video tour of the campus here. Video tours of campuses are also usually available at the school website.
YOUniversityTV - highly regarded resource for online college tours.
What’s “news” at your schools of interest?
Google Alerts - sign up for Google Alerts about schools to receive a daily update of articles that mention school(s) of interest.
Is the school accredited?
U.S. Department of Education - check accreditation status here.
Is it likely you’ll graduate on time?
Graduation Rates - College Results from the Education Trust; also see CollegeMeasures (includes an earnings to student debt ratio analysis). It’s important to understand that there are flaws in the graduation rate methodology and the results are not comparable unless you are comparing similar institutions. Also see College Reality Check, also found below under Financial Aid.
What are the institution’s graduation requirements?
College Source Online - links to over 70,000 college catalogs. Senior thesis or capstone project? General education requirements? Dual degree and off-campus study opportunities? Special services? These and more can all make a difference in your decision, so be sure to read the fine print included in the college’s catalog. Free to students.
What will my out-of-pocket costs be?
Find information about and reports on the net price costs at colleges at the College Affordability and Transparency Center. You can calculate your estimated net price at each of the colleges you are considering at their websites. It is important to remember that colleges vary in how they calculate need and in how they meet that need, so these calculators are distinct to each college — do not generalize your results to other colleges on your list. Estimates are just that: estimates.
What will my monthly payments look like, when I start paying off my loans?
Mapping Your Future - student loan repayment calculator.
Note this site is just providing an estimate, and the only way to know the exact amount will be to contact your lender. Also, never assume that your costs and loan amounts will remain constant over four to five years. You need to try to factor this in, asking the college for the average loan amount in sophomore, junior, and senior packages. Tip: Plan to pay the interest on unsubsidized loans while in college and during the grace period, so that the interest on the amount you’ve borrowed doesn’t capitalize. Otherwise, you’ll come out owing a lot more than you may have bargained for.
Pay for College Compare Aid Calculator - from Big Future, you can input your data from your college FA packages and it will calculate an estimate of what you'll owe after graduation.
MAJOR CONSIDERATIONS (also see Career-Specific):
If students are applying to a university here or abroad, they will likely need to apply to a specific school within the university and declare a major when applying. That means it’s time for some “major considerations”…
Students considering majoring in art will likely be required to submit a portfolio. A good resource for these students is the National Portfolio Day Association.
Career Clusters - (also found in Before You Begin/Know Yourself) explore careers that match your interests. Students may also want to explore careers recommended for their personality type (see Before You Begin/Know Yourself). An Internet search of “careers for (personality type)” should give them a listing of careers they may wish to explore. Remember, the careers recommended are based on surveys/studies that showed people with similar personalities expressed the most satisfaction with the careers suggested.
Truity.com - another recommended website with free personality and career assessments, as well as a paid career assessment section.
Career One Stop - view interviews with professionals at this site from the U.S. Department of Labor.
High5 Strengths Finder — free alternative version of the Gallup Strengths Finder test.
What Can I Do With A Major In? - from Penn State.
Online Career Planning - here’s another site, from Rutgers.
CollegeMajors101.com - informative site.
“What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors” - a study from Georgetown University. For more reports from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, visit the Center’s website.
MIT Sloan Career Cornerstone Center - for those interested in researching careers in science, technology, healthcare, engineering, mathematics and computing.
Occupational Outlook Handbook - research education/training needed, earnings, job prospects, and working conditions for various occupations at this government site.
Right-brained or left-brained? Many of us are a mix, but if you are highly dominant in one side or the other, you’ll have definite preferences in the type of work you do and your major in college.
Be truthful, be accurate, and before you press send, remember the NACAC Golden Rule of Applying to College: “Never apply to a college you would not happily attend if given the choice.”
Before you begin filling out applications, create a generic email account — e.g., email@example.com — that you will use for all things college related. Remember to use your full legal name on all applications — tests, college applications. If you are an international student, it should match your name on your passport. If you fill out one with Robert Smith and one with Robby Smith, they are not going to match up in document files.
The Common Application
Guide to the Common Application— this is a terrific step-by-step guide to completing the Common App from the generous folks at CollegeWise.
The Universal College Application
Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success — a new application created by a group of colleges as an alternative to relying solely on the Common Application. To date, over 90 colleges have become members of the Coalition.
Artists, if you need to submit a portfolio, you may want to check out the National Portfolio Day website.
ZeeMee.com - over 175 colleges are using this opportunity to add another dimension to your application, to see another side of you. It's similar to the Coalition Application's Locker.
THE COLLEGE ESSAY:
Common Application Essay Prompts Tips - some great advice from About.com.
Grammarly - the free writing assistant app (but you really need to learn these rules yourself!)
Purdue Online Writing Lab - need to brush up on your grammar, punctuation, and general writing skills? This is a great resource for you.
Tips for the UC Personal Statements
“Two-thirds of college graduates enter the wider world with an average debt load of $22,000 … Twenty-two thousand. It sounds more benign than it really is. Remember, that’s the average. If you can’t swim and you hear the river is only an average of four feet deep, you think, ‘Great, I’ll cross.’ But that’s the average. Somewhere the river is going to be six or seven feet deep, and you’re gonna drown. For a lot of families, it’s a lot worse than twenty-two thousand.”- Andrew Ferguson, Crazy U
“Regardless of how you save for college, do it. Saving for college ensures that a legacy of debt is not passed down your family tree.”- Dave Ramsey
Note there are two Financial Aid sections at this website. This area is geared to students and families (Internet resources for counselors to add to their websites), and there is one geared to providing tools for college counselors (see School Counselors).
Federal Student Aid Web Resources - find federal student aid basics, including eligibility, programs, and application process; online publications; a “College Preparation Checklist”; “Do You Need Money for College? Federal Student Aid at a Glance”; details on student aid eligibility and what types of aid you can get; scholarships for military families; avoiding scams; loan interest rates; repayment information; income-based repayment plan; and information about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program here.
Federal Student Aid YouTube Page
FAFSA - The Free Application for Federal Student Aid - even if you think you will not qualify for need-based aid, you will need to fill out the FAFSA to apply for low-interest, non-need-based government loans.
CSS Profile - some colleges will use the CSS Profile or an institutional aid application to determine your eligibility for institutional aid.
Profile Online List of Participating Colleges - see which colleges consider noncustodial parent information and international student information on the Profile.
CollegeData.com - if you are looking for general advice on financial aid, here’s a nice website on the topic.
College Goal Sunday - national program that proves free on-site assistance with filling out the FAFSA.
College Reality Check - funded by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, this website from The Chronicle of Higher Education enables users to compare net price, graduation rates, average college debt, loan-default rates, and graduate earnings.
College Tax Tips - a big shout out to the kids in the Upward Bound program in Denver, Colorado for recommending this site from Intuit!
CollegeUp.org - an online resource dedicated to demystifying the FAFSA, from the folks at College Goal Sunday.
Creating a Budget - from Federal Student Aid
FinAid.org - highly regarded website on the topic, includes an EFC calculator.
Financial Literacy for Students - from Annuity.org
Fastweb.com - scholarship search.
Big Future Scholarship Search - from the College Board.
NASFAA: Students, Parents & Counselors - learn about financial aid from the experts at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators.
GoodCall Scholarship Search - I did not have this site vetted by the volunteer committee, but it is interesting as it includes a difficulty meter.
Pay for College Compare Aid Calculator - from Big Future, you can input your data from your college FA packages and it will calculate an estimate of what you'll owe after graduation.
Raise.me - find micro-scholarships from colleges for high school achievements.
Reviews.com has vetted numerous scholarship search sites. Here's a listing of their top scholarship search platforms.
Scholarship Search by Category - from Discover Student Loans.
State Financial Aid Programs - find state grant and scholarship, as well as state and regional tuition exchange, programs at this interactive map page, from NASFAA.
Student Savings: The Ultimate Scholarship Resource Guide - from Shop Sleuth.
StudentScholarshipSearch.com - scholarship search site.
Repayment Estimator - from Federal Student Aid
You Can Deal With It - advice on paying for college from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
Going2College - search financial aid resources by state.
Find Scholarships by State - this link takes you to the page for Massachusetts, but you can check out the state scholarship programs for each state by clicking on the state link at left.
U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center - annual lists of most and least expensive colleges from the government, required by the 2008 renewal of the Higher Education Act.
Decoding the Financial Aid Award Letter - note that the government is currently requiring colleges to use a common template for financial aid awards called the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet; however, at this time, colleges are only required to use the form when awarding financial aid to students using military financial aid benefits. Many colleges use their own, very similar form to explain their aid package.
360 Degrees of Financial Literacy - financial literacy for every stage of life.
“Myths and Facts About the Credit Crunch and Student Loans” - originally found on the NASFAA website. Note that the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 eliminated the federally-guaranteed student loan program (FFELP); all federal student loans are now provided through the federal Direct Loan program. Bottom line: Regardless of how easy it may be for you to get a loan, you really need to think hard about how much debt you want to take on. Make sure you have a few “financial aid safeties” in your college list.
Federal Trade Commission: Avoiding Deceptive (Student Loan) Offers
The Project on Student Debt - some great advice on borrowing at this site.
How Work Study Works - useful page from CollegeData.com.
Cappex.com - search merit scholarships here (scroll down).
“10 Tips for Zapping Student Loan Debt” - some good tips in here for managing your student loans and minimizing debt.
National Student Loan Data System - government site that helps you keep track of your federal student loans.
Time for Payback - from Next Gen Personal Finance, this clever "game" helps you understand the hidden costs of college and how choices affect what you ultimately owe.
GAP YEAR and the PG YEAR:
For some students, it may be a good idea to consider a gap year between high school and college. The gap year gives students an opportunity to refresh, regroup, and refocus before heading off to college.
“Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation” - taking a year off between high school and college can be very beneficial, particularly for stressed out students who have spent the last four years in Harvard-or-Bust environments. This oft-cited article is from the admission folks at Harvard College.
American Gap Association
Gap Year Association - accredited programs listing.
TeenLife - recommended by a student, this site also has resources for summer programs, volunteer opportunities, boarding and day schools, and more.
USA Gap Year Fairs - find a gap year fair near you.
Verto Education - earn college credit abroad, on-campus or in-the-field experiential learning, for a year before heading to college
Some students just want to take another year to develop and improve their readiness for college. They may want to take improve their academic readiness, mature socially, or even just hone their skills in a sport they’d like to play in college. Here’s an article from About.com on the benefits of a PG year, including a partial listing of schools that offer the option:
“The Postgraduate Year: A Time to Grow” - from About.com.
TRANSITION TO COLLEGE:
How Is College Different From High School? - comparison chart from Southern Methodist University.
College Transition - comparison chart from Mid-State Technical College.
Making the Transition - great web page of transition to college resources for students with learning and physical disabilities, from the University of Texas at Austin.
Study Skills Tips - from HowToStudy.org.
Study Skill Tips - based on your learning style. Students with IEPs are taught to understand and compensate for their learning styles, something everyone would benefit from knowing!
"Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning" - more study skill tips.
Time Management and Study Skills Tips - great advice from FinancialAidJournal.com.
Create a Daily Schedule - interesting interactive tool to help you manage your time from Study Guides & Strategies.
Transition to College - some good tips in here on transitioning to and succeeding in college, from U.S. News.
Transition Year Articles - from TransitionYear.org.
Families in Global Transition - informative blog.
College Tips - Tips for Student on College Life - from CollegeTips.com.
Transition to College for Women - some outstanding advice for women -- and men -- heading off to college from 4collegewomen.org.
Transition to College for Parents - from Hartwick College.
Money Smarts - from Indiana University. Financial literacy - and more - for college students. You don't have to be an IU student to listen to these useful podcasts!
Hands on Banking - managing your money, from handsonbanking.org - in English and Spanish. For more financial literacy, also see School Counselors/Teaching Financial Literacy.
Consider purchasing used or renting textbooks to save money, but always make sure you are ordering the required edition of any used textbook you purchase or rent.
Common Application Transfer Resources - Common Application now has now created an application for transfers.
NACAC Knowledge Center - transfer resource page.
Transferology - designed to help students explore transfer options and figure out which of your courses will transfer to participating schools.
360 Degrees of Financial Literacy - financial literacy for every stage of life.
GRE Primer - from Discover Business.
“Heading Out on Your Own” - I love this series from The Art of Manliness. Great thoughts for talks on transition to college and beyond -- for both men and women.
“How to Repay Your Student Loans” - from the Federal government.
ZipRecruiter.com - recommended job search engine.
Student Loan Consolidation Guide - from The Simple Dollar.