Episode 166: Getting and Organizing College Information

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Today we are going to talk about Steps 2 and 3 of your kid’s summer homework. If you haven’t gotten our workbook for your son or daughter, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, then you haven’t done your summer homework. So, get one from Amazon, or listen very carefully to this episode and the next 11 like it.

In the last episode, you and your kid hopefully completed Step 1 of your summer homework by creating the all-important Long List of College Options (or LLCO, as we like to call it). And it should be long–perhaps 20 to 25 colleges, all of which your kid will start researching seriously very soon. You might think you already know a lot about some of the colleges on the list. In fact, you might have visited some of the colleges on the list. But I bet neither you nor your soon-to-be senior can answer all of the questions we have in mind.

1. Step 2: Reviewing the College Profile Worksheet

So, here’s the work in Step 2. It is really quite easy. We simply want your kid to preview the research he or she will start conducting soon in order to be mentally set for the task ahead. We created what we are calling the College Profile Worksheet in order to help your kid gather the information you both need in order to move forward in the college search process. This is what we said in the workbook about our 11-page–yes, 11-page–College Profile Worksheet: 

The worksheet is going to look long to you. But this is an important decision you are about to make. In fact, we would argue that deciding where to APPLY is just as important as deciding where to ENROLL–maybe more important. After all, if you don’t apply to a college, you can’t possibly enroll there. This is the decision that sets all of the others in motion. 

The College Profile Worksheet calls for you to make a lot of notes about colleges you are interested in. Why write all of this information down, you might be asking? Because you can’t remember it. Believe us, after you research about four colleges, you will not be able to remember which college had the great bike paths and which college had the required math courses. You need a convenient way to recall each college–without having to go back to the website and look up the information again. 

We learned this the hard way. When we were profiling colleges for our virtual college tour, we went back and forth to the same college website far too many times before realizing that we should have just jotted everything down the first time. We actually made a crude version of the worksheet for ourselves, and we have now improved it and put it into this workbook for you. The College Profile Worksheet will save you lots of time in the long run. 

Here are the categories of information you will be researching about each college on your LLCO:

History and Mission

Location

Enrollment

Class Size

Academics

Schedule

Housing

Security Measures

Activities and Sports

Admission Practices

Cost

You will see that the College Profile Worksheet asks you several questions in each category. Answering those questions will give you a good understanding of many important features of each college on your LLCO. As a result, you should be able to decide more efficiently and more accurately whether each college is a good match for you.

This might sound like a lot of work to you, and we know that it is going to sound like a lot of work to your son or daughter. But we insist that he or she should not be making a decision about attending a college–or even applying to a college–if you all know any less about it. We guarantee that the 52 questions on our College Profile Worksheet and the 52 answers your kid will discover while doing the research will give both of you a better picture of colleges in the U.S. than most educated adults have. How can that be a bad thing?

2. Step 3: Reviewing College Websites and Other Sources

And now, here’s the work in Step 3: figuring out where your son or daughter is going to get the information to answer our 52 questions. It is not as hard as you might think, but sometimes it is a lot harder than it should be (are you listening, colleges, because that it your fault). Let’s talk first about college websites. This is what we wrote to students in the workbook:

There is really no substitute for studying the website of each college on your LLCO. There is probably not a better way–and certainly not a cheaper way–to get more information than you could ever need about a college. Even visiting a college will not give you the range of detailed information that studying its website will.

With that said, let us point out that college websites are not created equal. Some are easy to use; some are difficult to figure out. All college websites are not set up the same way, and they do not use the same vocabulary. That is really too bad for the millions of high school students trying to use them. However, the more you study college websites, the better you will get at finding the information you need. The best thing to do is just get started.

Virtually every college website has a section called something like About (the name of the college). You might want to start there. That section usually contains something like Fast Facts or At a Glance or Facts and Figures. This section gives you a quick overview of the college, and we always find it helpful and informative. This page will absolutely help you fill in the College Profile Worksheet for each college on your LLCO.

Most college websites include these useful sections, among others:

  • Admission?You will spend a lot of time studying this section, obviously.
  • Academics?If the point of college is an education, then this section is critically important, with its explanations of divisions (like undergraduate and graduate or, if it is a university, like colleges and schools), departments, majors, and minors, plus a course catalog.
  • Campus Life, or Student Life?This section includes all of the things that will make up much of the rest of your life at college, including housing, dining, extracurricular activities and clubs, fraternities and sororities, and support services.
  • Athletics?If you are looking for information on intercollegiate athletics, don’t be surprised if you are automatically taken to an entirely separate website dedicated to sports (thanks to the big business that athletics is on many campuses and the boosters/fans who support the teams financially).
  • Research?Colleges are justifiably proud of their research projects and opportunities, partly because a research university has prestige among higher education institutions. However, we find that this section is likely to be of less interest to many high school students applying for undergraduate study.

Some information you will need can be found in something called the “common data set, which you can usually find by searching a college website for it (literally, type “common data set” into the college website’s search box). On many college websites, you will actually find the common data set for the most recent year as well as for previous years. On a few college websites, on the other hand, we have yet to find the common data set! (For information about the origins of the common data set, see its own website, www.commondataset.org.)

One more thing to mention about many college websites: Take the virtual campus tour. . . .

In our opinion, a good virtual tour gives you a lot of what a real-life campus tour does, and it is a lot cheaper and easier to take before deciding whether to apply to that college. We have noticed that high school students often notice the wrong things on live tours anyway, like whether they liked the tour guide and how comfortable they felt with the other students on the tour (who are not, please remember, students at the college). . . .

So, what’s the assignment? Have your son or daughter look through at least five college websites. Help your kid choose different types of colleges–large and small, public and private–to see the similarities and differences among websites. Encourage him or her to get familiar with the vocabulary and organization of college websites now so that completing the College Profile Worksheets later will be a lot easier. Here’s what we said in the workbook: Figure out how to get more efficient and effective at finding the information you want. By the way, that’s what any good student would do.

Now, let’s bring College Navigator into focus. If you don’t know what that is, it’s time to learn. Here’s our explanation from the workbook:

The National Center for Education Statistics collects data from almost 7,000 colleges in the U.S. and makes those data available to you free of charge through its online tool, College Navigator.

College Navigator is super easy to use. Just go to its website, type in the name of the college you are researching, and click “Show Results.” College Navigator will give you a wealth of information quickly–more than you can actually use now or, really, ever. The thumbnail description at the top of the entry for each college includes the following:

  • Address, telephone number, and college website address
  • Type of institution and awards (degrees) offered
  • Campus setting
  • Campus housing availability
  • Student population (enrollment)
  • Student-to-faculty ratio

Then, there are 13 categories of information listed. The ones we think you will find most useful are these (we will talk more about each of these later):

  • Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses

  • Enrollment

  • Admissions

  • Retention and Graduation Rates

  • Campus Security

So, what’s the next assignment? Have your son or daughter go to College Navigator and enter the name of one of the colleges that he or she is interested in. Have your kid look through all of the information provided in order to get an idea of the information that College Navigator provides. Take a look yourself. You don’t know right now how useful this website can be, but you will before the year is over.

By the way, you can also use College Navigator as a means of searching for additional colleges in case you are still looking. Check out the filters it provides for such a search. You might be surprised at what you will find!

For more information, read up on this topic in How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Get ready to work next week!

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