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College Search Tools

The most valuable assistance an independent counselor can give is in finding the colleges that best match a students interests, abilities, and aspirations. There are over three thousand 4-year colleges in the United States, plus many more community and junior colleges, career colleges, and other educational options.

The tool of choice for 21st century parents and students is the Internet search. There are services, both free and fee-based, that allow you to plug in various criteria and come up with a list of possible colleges.

The Internet is a helpful place to start. But it is more of a blunt instrument than a fine-toothed comb.

Here are some helpful Internet sites to get you started.


This is perhaps the best site around for finding reliable data and for tuning your search. This site is run by the US Government, and uses data that colleges are required to report in standard formats. So it’s easier to compare apples to apples here. Plus it’s easy to find graduation and retention rates, as well as create detailed lists by major. You can find College Navigator at

UCAN: University and College Accountability Network

This free site was established by a consortium of colleges who wanted to present data objectively without ratings and value judgments that so many of the ratings publications (like US News & World Report) have compiled. The data is reliable, but there isn’t as much of it on this site as on College Navigator. Plus not all colleges are part of the network. Still, it’s a useful resource, and you can find it at

Social networking has become an important source of information for all consumers, including college-bound high school students.  Unigo is a video sharing site, on which university students can post video about their college, thereby providing the “inside scoop” on campus life.  The videos can be informative and entertaining.  But as you look through them, you begin to see that the tone of the video may reflect as much (or more) upon the person behind the camera as upon the campus location.

This site offers up more videos that have been professionally produced.  They provide a visual introduction to colleges, accompanied by live interviews with faculty and students.  As you watch, you’ll find that the videos all follow a similar format, and after awhile, they all start to look pretty much the same.  But they are still helpful in communicating basic information in an engaging manner.


The developers and administrators of the SAT exams also have a good website for doing some initial college searches.  You can find basic data about colleges to help you narrow your criteria.  But be sure that you take your search beyond this database, as you’ll need to dig much deeper.  Use this as a first cut.  The College Board


Like the College Board, this test prep company (and publisher of several books on college admissions) offers a search tool to give you a first cut at making a college list.  But as with the College Board, this is just a first cut. You need to dig much deeper to find the college that may suit you best.  The Princeton Review


This organization, created by Loren Pope, focuses on great colleges that teach students to think.  These are teaching schools, and most of them are small, liberal arts colleges where undergraduate education is the complete focus of attention for all faculty and staff.  These schools are definitely worth a second look.  Colleges That Change Lives


Most college and university websites have their own virtual tours that help you get a sense of the campus.  However, you may want to get an independent view of the campus from a third party.  So check out these websites:


If you want the most recent scuttlebutt on the campus of your dreams, pick up a copy of the student newspaper.  Unable to find it, or are you miles away from that campus?  No worries!  Check out this website that provides links to colleges newspapers from around the country.  College Newspapers from Around the Country


I carry an aggregated ranking of colleges on my own website for reference.  These rankings pull together the US News & World Report, Forbes, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities.


The National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) is an alternative to the rankings rigamarole that poisons our collective understanding of which colleges are good–and not-so-good.  This independent survey looks at a variety of indicators that are much harder to “rank” from one college to another, but still present a helpful picture of the educational “product” each college or university provides.  An Alternative to Rankings

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