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Applying to College in 2012? Begin Your Search Online

High school juniors, take note: This is the year you start the dreaded college application process. Here's a round-up of helpful links designed to make the process less daunting.

Between technical difficulties and the holidays, I’m a little late with my college advice. Apologies! I was recently asked to provide a couple of websites that would be helpful for a high school junior. Here, I’m taking the request a step further by providing a range of sites that can be useful for students at various stages of their high school experience (and I even include a few for college students). As of today, all links are in working order.  

Start Your College Search With The Click of a Mouse 

There are many sites available to help students search for colleges. General searches can be made at College Board or College View. For students who may want to attend a college or university with a particular affiliation or emphasis, some of the following sites may be especially useful:

  • The National Catholic Colleges Admissions Association maintains a site which identifies US colleges that are affiliated with the Catholic Church.
  • Hillel provides information about Jewish life on campus at institutions across the US.  
  • Black Excel’s website offers a great deal of information for students interested in attending a historically black college or university (HBCU).  
  • I don’t know of any sites that focus on Latino colleges, per se, but I am listing two sites are especially helpful to the Latino population. Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities is an organization that is committed to the success of Hispanics in higher education, and New Futuro provides advice for Latino students and their parents.  It primarily focuses on funding, but it also explores topics such as all-nighters, dorm life and more. Some articles are in Spanish.  
  • Among other things, the Women’s College Coalition lists women’s colleges and universities across North America.
  •  Students interested in pursuing competitive athletics in college should visit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) site. Here, you can learn about which colleges offer which sports, and you can find a great deal of information on eligibility and recruiting, as well as much more useful information. Most schools belong to the NCAA, but several also belong to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), so be sure to check out their site, too. 
  •  The Center for Student Opportunity provides information for traditionally underserved students (e.g., first generation, low-income, rural and minority student populations) and offers a search option for colleges and universities known for recruitment and retention of underserved students.
  • You may also want to peruse other sites in your search for schools.  CollegeClickTV provides a first-hand perspective on college and college life from students and professors. Or go to the Princeton Review for student opinions on any number of topics from the schools with the best/worst professors to the best/worst food.  
  • Your high school has many college representatives visiting, but you may also want to visit college fairs. Check out the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) website to see which fairs are in the area.

Get Published, Get Noticed 

Other websites might help you gain an edge or advantage in the competitive college admissions process. If you have what it takes, you might want to consider becoming a published author in a refereed journal by the time you apply to college. 

  • Submit your manuscript to The Concord Review, a quarterly journal which publishes academic research papers.  You may also want to submit a history paper to be reviewed by the National Writing Board. More information is available online
  • The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers is a non-profit organization that provides awards and scholarships for exceptional literary and visually artistic talent. Some past recipients include Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates and Andy Warhol. Past jurors include Judy Blume, Langston Hughes and Robert Frost. Although there are many websites out there that purport do what the Alliance does, they really only want your entry fees.  The Alliance is the real deal.  

Testing, Testing...

  • Before you actually apply to schools, you may be taking a major exam or two.  To find out which schools do not require the SATs or ACTs, check out Fair Test
  • As we know, though, most schools do require the tests. The College Board is responsible for the PSATs, SATs, APs and CLEP (which allows you to gain college credit through independent study). Go to the site and click on the tab on the top of the page to go where you want to go. Information on the ACT is also available online. 
  • Go to ETS to find out more about the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GREs (the Graduate Record Exam, relevant for current college seniors).  

Applying Online 

Once you’re ready to apply to schools, you’ll probably apply online. There are two major online application services. One is the Common Application. This site is used by more than 400 schools and is fairly well-known. 

The lesser-known Universal College Application is used by nearly 60 schools. Because it isn’t as well known, I will provide a general overview:    

 According to UCA, they “challenge the current online application model by being more inclusive. Any accredited institution which upholds NACAC’s Statements and Policies of Good Practice is eligible to join the UCA consortium, providing for a more diverse applicant pool. From the applicant’s side, the UCA will be forging partnerships with various not-for-profits, and foundations to provide college admissions information to applicants with varying social and economic backgrounds.” 

 Some key features of the UCA include options for customization that allow applicants to tailor their applications to specific schools. Students also have the opportunity to link to multimedia directly in the main application, which makes submitting a video, e-portfolio or other web content pretty simple. Evaluators can also tailor their recommendations to particular schools.  Not only is this helpful for the evaluators, but this is very valuable to students because it allows you the flexibility to ask for letters from different people who highlight different strengths you want to showcase to different schools.  .

Financial Aid 

Money has always been an issue, but never more so than now. Many sites provide financial aid information. Be sure that you never provide personal information or pay any fees without thoroughly checking out the company.  And never pay for information on scholarships or loans — this information is provided for free from endless sources. 

To get you started, here are a few financial aid sites:

  • You can obtain information about financial aid topics (e.g., scholarships, loans, taxes) at Financial Aid for College
  • The CSS Profile is a financial aid form provided by the College Board, which is required by many private colleges for students applying for financial aid.
  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form provided by the federal government that is required by public colleges and universities from students seeking scholarships, grants, loans or work study jobs.
  •  The FAFSA Forecaster provides information on student aid and eligibility. 
  • For those currently in college, consider saving money by trading textbooks with other students on campus. Two no-cost websites, Student Book Trades or Text Swap, help you do just this. Otherwise, purchase used book through Abesbooks, a clearinghouse for used books. This excellent site is not limited to textbooks.  

There are many more sites out there, but these should keep you busy for a while. Before signing off, though, I want to send out a huge congratulations to all of my students on being admitted to their early decision choices. And congratulations to all you seniors that I don’t know who received your coveted admissions letters. I hope you’ve all been sleeping especially well.

If you aren’t financially bound to attend the school, though, you may want to consider applying to other schools, too. Having other acceptance letters in hand may allow you leverage when it comes to negotiating financial aid packages. I’ll write more about this in the spring. But for now, investing the time and money to apply to additional schools may pay off later.

For those of you who didn’t receive the news you’d wanted, don’t despair. You can still reapply and there are also many, many wonderful schools out there, so you may just find another school that is a better fit for you.

Finally, parents, be sure to file your taxes early!  The FAFSA is available on Jan. 1.  Once need is taken into account, it’s a first-come, first-serve basis. Waiting until the end of spring may mean that your child is eligible for money that is no longer available. No one wants that to happen.  

About Me:

I am an educational consultant living in Scarsdale and working with families in the tri-state area as a college admissions counselor and tutor. Please write to succeed@learn2love2learn.com with questions about college admissions for inclusion in “College Bound: Qs & As about High School and College Admissions.” Although my blog focuses on college admissions, I love talking shop, so feel free to contact me at the above address or at 917-456-6056 if you have any educationally-related questions. 

Donna January 03, 2012 at 01:02 AM
The most important thing to remember is to "go where they want you." By this I mean that as far as undergraduate school goes, it is not as important where you attend as opposed to graduate school. Therefore, if a school is offering you a nice sized scholarship or great financial aid, take it. Believe me, the school loans will pile up and, like many former students know, they (or their parents) are struggling to make payments in the amount of $1K or more with a job that pays hopefully $30K. So, unless you get accepted to one of the Ivies, the rest of the schools are not worth the full sticker price or $45 to $60K.
Lenora de la Luna January 03, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Thank you for your comments. There is tremendous value to what you are saying, and in many ways I agree. But I think your advice is a bit oversimplistic. College is much more than just an academic education and everyone doesn't go to grad school, so there are other things to consider. Finances should certainly be considered, and finding the right fit should take money into account, but it should also take other things into account. Additionally, there are ways to make schools compete with one another, if you will, much in the same way that potential employers may fight over you. It's helpful to know that this practice exists, and even more helpful to know how to best encourage it and negotiate the process. Also, unlike some things, the price tag on a school does not equate to the quality of a school, and there are many wonderful bargains out there. Finally, Ivies may not be worth the investment because if the fit isn't right, it isn't right. Just because a school is an Ivy doesn't mean it's the right school for someone.

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