Tish O'Connor
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Tish O'Connor offers comprehensive counseling on college admission and inexpensive application-writing workshops that focus on essay development. More...

Compiling a college list that offers a range of solutions to the applicant's requirements is the counselor's primary job. Tish uses research and assessments to help each student find colleges that best fit their interests, including majors, learning communities and budget. Here are some of the resources I utilize in initiating a search. Understanding personal strengths and finding colleges to develop that potential is the goal of this process.

More than 800 lists, which identify different attributes and break down college search in new ways, are a good tool to expand the range of schools under consideration. 

Find colleges that offer specialized majors, from cartooning to wine-making, or exceptional strength in certain sports. The Experts’ Choices are always reliable, but more quirky categories (new technologies, new jobs; where geek is chic; great dance programs or television stations) can change perspectives.

Read the School Profiles for even-handed assessments. CollegeXpress is especially useful for transfer applicants because it includes those stats.

The experiences of current college students can resonate forcefully with those just setting out on this journey. Student bloggers at CollegeData have for a decade shared their college search and outcomes, compiling admitted (and rejected) student profiles that are personal and compelling.

Students can compare their own stats with those posted by the bloggers to assess their chances at a wide range of real colleges and universities and read updates on the students' college experiences. 

The librarians at University of Illinois, tired of fielding the same questions about college rankings, compiled an index of some that are transparent about their methodologies and may have another, more specific focus.

The Education Trust puts the emphasis on retention and graduation rates, sorted by ethnicity and gender, in a format that permits easy comparison of schools. Cost and financial aid are analyzed; average student loans (and default rates), federal and institutional grants are tabulated, along with average net price by income category. Admission stats and characteristics of student body and campus culture are noted, along with the percentage of degrees awarded by discipline (STEM, business, arts, social sciences).

Like College Navigator, this website uses federal data to generate reliable stats on college selectivity and cost, but it is not particularly user-friendly or helpful in assessing a school's dynamic.

Take charge of this process! 

Michelle Kretzchmar, a statistician who home-schooled her own son, then helped him win a scholarship to play college baseball (and study history), eventually shared her insights on a website. Her Do-It-Yourself attitude is empowering, if sometimes intimidating, as she debunks the myths of selectivity (giving priority instead to graduation rates) and explains the merits of spreadsheets. Start by exploring her guide to finding colleges in specific states, then read her blog, which emphasizes college cost.

Use this new website to quickly identify colleges in your price range. Universal net-price calculator will generate a comparison of college costs with Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as one axis of the graph. First, you must estimate your family’s EFC—the minimum amount that you will be expected to pay toward college costs according to the federal formula (FAFSA)—but this useful tool is another motivation to get that done. One place to start the EFC calculation is estimating tool on the FAFSA itself.

and Forbes rank educational institutions by such metrics as cost, “value,” and average debt at graduation. Business Week opines on the best undergraduate business programs.

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