College Planning: How To Get The Most From A College's Website

Five "Must Do" stops you should make on every college website:

1. Locate the website search tool. Most colleges place this on their home page and it's the fastest way to find what you're looking for. Find it and use it!

2. Admissions Page. It's usually "Admissions" or "Prospective Students" on the college home page (if it's a University with graduate students then be sure you go to the Undergraduate Admissions). You should be looking for the following important information:

  • Freshman profile – you need to compare how you stack up to the "typical" admitted freshman.
  • "How To Apply" – get clear on what's required for a complete application. What tests, what applications, deadlines – all of it.

3. Financial Aid and Scholarships. If you need help in order to pay the college bill, then you MUST scrutinize this section of the website. You're looking for costs, what, if any scholarships are available, how competitive you are for those scholarships, etc.

4. Academics. You are going to college to actually learn something, yes? So once you've taken a look at all the pretty pictures of happy smiling students on a bright sunny day, it's time to dig deeper. You need to look at the department pages of the majors you're thinking of pursuing. What are the requirements for that major? What classes are required? Who teaches them?

5. The college's key selling points. Remember the admissions section of the website is a marketing tool. It's the admissions office's job to "market the college" to students like you. To make an informed decision about whether a college is right for you, you're going to need to get past the marketing glitz and glamor that's designed to convince you to apply. A college may be a Pinto or a Yugo (Google it) but the admissions office's job is to convince you you're looking at a Cadillac or a Mercedes.

Your Smart Plan for College Assignment:

Start evaluating college websites with a critical eye. Remember they are designed to make everything look good! You have to make an informed decision – there are lots of great colleges out there. Just because a college looks great on the website doesn't mean it's a great college for you. You've got to get beyond the glitz and glamor and dig in to find useful, relevant information that can help you decide if a college is worth your time and effort for further investigation or if it needs to be voted off your list.

And finally – do remember that the website is a good starting point. Looking at a college's website, by itself, is NOT enough to make a decision that will consume four years of your life and THOUSANDS of your parents' hard-earned money.

You wouldn't buy a house just from a picture on a website, would you? Of course not. You'd do further investigation.

You can't "buy" a college that way either.

Now, maybe you need help creating a list of colleges so you can start investigating college websites. Or perhaps you've gone to college websites and are wondering what you need to do next. Or maybe you're looking at college costs on the websites and trying to figure out how much you're really going to have to pay.

Maybe you're on the right track. But what if you're not? Don't you want to know now – while you still have time to do something about it? Or would you rather not know only to get blindsided by a rejection letter or a bigger-than-you-can-afford college bill?

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