As is the case with any adventure on which you embark, preparation is the key to a successful journey. Those of you who are currently on the trek towards college can attest to the fact that there are many ups and downs along the way. Studying for and taking standardized tests can be stressful! Securing financial aid can be daunting! Finding your best-fit schools, keeping your GPA up, securing great letters of recommendation, working on draft after draft of your college essays, chiseling out time in your busy schedule to volunteer while also engaging deeply in your extracurricular activities, figuring out how best to show admissions officers that you really do care about others, that you have grit and perseverance, that you exemplify characteristics of a real leader, that you’re brilliant and unique, and that you’d be an awesome addition to their incoming freshmen class – it sometimes feels a bit like this…
…and you’re doing all that you can just to keep from capsizing! Well, nobody said it would be easy. I can promise you, however, that the journey to college will be worth it in the end. That moment when your acceptance letters begin to arrive (along with some rejections, I would suspect) is one of which you can and should be proud!
As for the arduous journey, there are some wonderful resources out there to help you along the way. Consider the above photo. The situation looks grim, I concede, but now let’s consider that the two adventurers have taken a canoeing skills course (e.g. how to navigate one’s canoe through rough waters), that they are both exemplary swimmers and are outfitted with life jackets, that the canoe was designed specifically to handle rocks and rapids, that the two men had the good sense to pack all of their belongings in waterproof bags, and that those bags are secured properly in their canoe. Suddenly, we aren’t as apprehensive when thinking about what happens next. College admissions is no different! If students and their families take advantage of the resources that are available to them, and prepare as best they can before embarking on (and during) their pre-collegiate adventures, chances are excellent that everything will work out well in the end.
Today I want to bring your attention to some great resources, websites that can really help you along the way and to which I find myself constantly referring the students with whom I work. Readers, these websites are the strong canoes, waterproof bags, life jackets, and important how-to and know-how resources of the college admissions journey! From A to Z …
- Of course, Admitster must be mentioned. We’re working to help level the college admissions playing field and offer free, online, do-it-yourself college counseling tools: The College List Builder; accurate predictions of your admissions chances at your top-choice schools; and the awesome What If? Engine, which allows you to play around with hypothetical situations to see the impact these changes have on your chances of admission at the schools on your list (e.g. how do your admissions odds change at different schools if you, for instance, slightly boost your GPA, take on a new leadership role, or spend a few hours more each week volunteering?)! To access these free tools, you need only spend ten seconds registering an account with us. Admitster is also proud to offer affordable services – I speak of admissions advising, personalized help with putting together your college list, our college essay reviews, and tutoring and test prep services. Through these offerings, Admitster helps you (students and parents) to own the journey to college. Finally, our awesome school partnership program, Partnership For College Success, offers college counseling for every student!
- College Abacus (and Pell Abacus, if you qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) is a tremendous resource for calculating net price estimates at the schools on your list. Remember, when thinking about where to apply, you should never rule out a school based on its sticker price! The net price (tuition & fees MINUS aid & benefits) is the number that counts, and College Abacus is the website that can show you those calculations of net price. To give you a quick example, these two randomly-chosen colleges (above) have similar sticker prices but look at the difference in the net price calculations for this student – they’re significant!
- In writing the 2968 Series for this blog, I often direct readers to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. The scorecard is meant to improve transparency and does a great job of giving you snapshots of the potential schools on your list, including statistics on the ever-important graduation rate, the average annual cost for federal financial aid recipients, including by family income (the example on the right is for Skidmore College), the percent of students receiving federal loans, and retention rates, among other important information. The scorecard also shows you how the school compares to the national average on each of the different factors being reviewed.
- The FAFSA4caster, brought to you by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is a great online tool to check out – “FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college. Provide some basic information and we’ll estimate your eligibility for federal student aid!”
- If standardized tests are not your forte and/or you’re just curious to learn more, FairTest has compiled a list of over 850 schools around the country that are test-optional – click here to access the list of test-optional colleges and universities!
- If you’re a student-athlete who hopes to continue playing in college, then NCSA Athletic Recruiting is an organization to know about! They help student-athletes to connect with college coaches, provide valuable information about the recruiting process, and help student-athletes to find scholarships and grants, recognizing outstanding athletic achievements. NCSA also offers a recruit-match technology, to “help ensure that athletes choose schools that are a good fit for them athletically and academically”, and an iPhone app that “lets you stay connected to coaches and NCSA no matter where you are.”
- A smart way to gain some insights into whether a school will be a great fit for you is to check out the college on niche.com. This website is home to college reviews written by current students, allowing you to “access insider guides to every aspect of campus life with thousands of unbiased student reviews and ratings.” You can, for instance, learn more about a college’s academics, dorms, weather, party scene, food, on-campus parking, and local area, to list but a few examples!
- Raise.me is a great way to earn money for college, starting as early as 9th grade. As is written on their website, you can “instantly earn micro-scholarships for achievements in class, sports, clubs, and more.” Raise.me has over 150 college partners and “if you are accepted and choose to attend one of those colleges, the micro-scholarships you earned for that particular college are automatically added to your financial aid package for that school.” Click here to learn more!
- Scholar Snapp Solution, which was first developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation back in 2008, works to help you increase your access to college scholarship funds. How is this accomplished? As is stated on their website, “The Scholar Snapp Solution will help you complete applications faster by pre-populating basic information requested in all scholarship applications and will help you find money for college by matching your data with the qualifications of various scholarship providers.” In other words, this online tool provides users with the resources needed to both find scholarships and make it easier to apply for them – nice! To read more about it, click here.
- Finally, we get to Z – ZeeMee is helping students get seen by colleges! You simply sign up with them, and then upload videos, photos, and documents to your account. You can then add your ZeeMee link to your college applications (they’ve even teamed up with The Common Application, making it easy to add a ZeeMee field on your Common App) and admissions officers will have access to it! Like Admitster, ZeeMee is working to level the college admissions playing field, writing on their site, “Regardless of your background, we want you to have the ability to tell your unique story and showcase what you are passionate about, without having to pay a single dime.” Cool!
Have you come across any other websites/resources that were extremely useful to you as you navigated the choppy college admissions waters? If so, please let me know about it in the comment box below! I love hearing about new resources, tools, and ideas that make the journey to college a little less stressful and a little more fun…