The Great Eight: Start Your Journey With These College Search Websites

college search websites

The Great Eight: Start Your Journey With These College Search Websites

college search websites

Today’s high schoolers use Google to search for anything and everything. So why would it be any different when it’s time to conduct a college search? Google is certainly good place to start. But with millions of results, it’s understatedly overwhelming and not very time conducive.

So at Road2College, we did our own exhaustive research on college search websites, followed by college research review comparisons, and finally (after chiseling away at millions of results), we ended up with what we view as the Great Eight. In this case, we’re not making reference to the NCAA Basketball Championships, but rather eight of the most used and approved college search websites.

Are the following eight the “end-all, be-all?” Definitely not; everyone has their personal preferences—from filters to graphics, from data to tables. So take from it what you will. If anything, this list is a great place to start.

Our Top College Search Websites

College Board Big Future

Who would know better about colleges than the College Board? After all, the College Board is the go-to for anything SAT– or AP-related. With millions engaging annually with the Board on their road to college, the extensive college planning website (Big Future) provides assistance and resources to a wide range of students and their families.

Whether a student has a plan in hand or is truly just beginning their college search, Big Future is an authentic and objective step-by-step guide to college planning. With its fun graphics and slideshows, Big Future takes an encouraging and friendly approach to something that can seem quite overwhelming.

Get started:

  • Registration: Basic (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Graduation, High School, User/Password)
  • Ease of Use: Extremely Beginner-Friendly
  • Search Methods: By College or By Preferences (Major, Location, and School Type)
  • Advanced Filters: Test Scores/Selectivity, Type of School, Location, Campus/Housing, Majors/Learning Environment, Sports/Activities, Academic Credit, Additional Support Program, Diversity, Finance
  • “My Colleges”: The website initially pairs the searcher with six schools that best match their interests. Make side-by-side comparisons with three schools simultaneously.
  • Data Export: Save your searches and comparisons for future use.

Takeaway:

  • College Board Big Future has something for everybody—scholarship info, PSAT, SAT & AP test dates, career exploration, college student interviews, financial resources, direct links to colleges… the list goes on and on.
  • Customizable everything: My Plan, My Tests, My Calendar, My Ways to PayMy Majors & Careers
  • Cons: The inability to share/email saved searches/comparisons

Collegedata

Collegedata may not be as visually appealing as some of the other sites on this list. But nevertheless, this search engine packs a punch and offers some unique insight.

Powered by 1st Financial Bank USA, the no-nonsense search tool is number-oriented—searches display odds for getting into selected colleges and compares the student against other applicants. It also calculates expected family contribution (EFC), tracks financial aid, compares award packages, and much, much more.

The tool serves as a reality check or (depending on how you look at it) a dream come true. Being that it’s hosted by a bank, users may get email offers for credit cards, student loans, and other financial products. Still, Collegedata is the search tool for those who want to be realistic about their choices and make informed financial decisions.

Get started:

  • Registration: Basic (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Graduation, High School, User/Password) Type of College Preference and Interest in Financial Aid
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly, use of Preferences for the college search is more time-consuming and detailed
  • Search Methods: By College or By Preferences (Test Scores/Selectivity, Type of School, Location, Majors/Learning Environment, Sports/Activities, Paying, Satisfaction/Graduation Rate, Student Background)
  • College Match Results: The website pairs the searcher with as many schools that best match their interest(s) and gives the searcher the choice to delve into College Chances and Net Price. The initial results present an informative, yet complicated table comparing all college matches.
  • Data Locker: Add colleges to personal the “Data Locker.” This allows the user to compare selected colleges and other key information (scholarships and articles) all in one location.
  • Data Export: Save, Share (email) and Print Searches/Results

Takeaway:

  • Collegedata is all about the numbers—odds of getting in to selected colleges, how much you should expect to pay, what others are paying, and what award package has more bang for your buck. It also has sources to assist the college search from the very beginning to the end, from selection to finances.
  • Multitude of helpful tools: College Match, Admissions Tracker, College Chances, Financial Aid Tracker, Scholarship Finder, College Net Price CalculatorEFC Calculator, Compare Financial Aid Awards, and Data Locker
  • Cons: The College Match Results table, although detailed and informative, can be immensely difficult to decipher.

College Insights (CI)

Road2College’s College Insights Tool helps students and parents search, find, and compare over 2,000 colleges. It allows users to filter the information that’s most important to them as they work to find merit scholarships and build their perfect college list.

Data comes from several sources, including Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Peterson’s (the Common Data Set), and FairTest: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing. Information also comes from students themselves, on what scholarships and financial aid they actually received, as well as from colleges’ and universities’ websites (concerning admissions requirements, scholarships, deadlines, pricing, etc). 

Get started:

  • Registration: Basic (Name, identifying as a Parent, Student, or Professional/Advisor, Email, Password)
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly, although you have to start with only five schools 
  • Search Methods: By school or by preferences (Location, Major, School Size)
  • Advanced Filters: academic stats (GPA, test scores), admissions stats (early and regular decision, yield), cost of attendance, crowdsourced college offers from families, deadlines (early and regular decision, financial aid), merit-based aid from colleges, need-based aid, race/ethnicity, 4-year graduation rates, and more
  • Merit Scholarships: Users can find schools by entering GPA and test scores, then search colleges where these stats are in the 75th percentile. The resulting list of colleges are most likely to offer merit scholarships to students with stats in their 75th percentile. Users can also sort schools based on the size of the average merit scholarship amount, along with the percentage of students who are offered merit scholarships.
  • Need-Based Aid: Similarly, users can find schools by entering GPA and test scores, then search colleges where these stats are either in the average or 75th percentile. The results can then be sorted based on the percent of need a school meets. Schools that have a higher “Need Met” percentage will offer more need-based aid to accepted students. 
  • Build Your College List: Sort and compare schools using filters and dozens of data points on each school. 
  • Data Export: There is currently no way to export data from CI.

Takeaway:

  • CI provides a variety of pre-filtered tabs (for merit scholarships, test optional, early decision, early action, need-based aid, and more), allowing users to quickly drill deeper to find schools, among their search results, that fit one of these criteria.
  • Time Saver: CI is the first ever merit aid tool that combines crowdsourced and college-reported data on 2,000+ colleges from across the U.S.
  • Cons: Once your 7-day free trial expires, CI requires a paid subscription. However, you can cancel any time or get the tool for free by becoming a member of College Insights Academy.

College Navigator

College Navigator is all facts and no frills. Put out by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education, the College Navigator is great for finding reliable data about any college.

However, similar to other data-driven sites, students won’t want to strictly rely on College Navigator during their search for the perfect college. Know how much you want to spend on tuition or what state you want to attend college? Sure, the College Navigator can inform students what colleges fit the bill and where they are located on the interactive map. But there won’t be any first-hand stories from students who attend the colleges of interest nor a flashy interface to break up the data.

Get started:

  • Registration: None
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly; right to the point
  • Search Methods: By school or by preferences (State, Zip code, Institution Type, Degree Level, Major)
  • Advanced Filters: Tuition & Fees, Undergraduate Student Enrollment, Housing, Campus Setting, Admissions, Test Scores, Athletic Teams, Extended Learning Opportunities, Religious Affiliation, Specialized Mission
  • Results: The website pairs the searcher with as many schools that best match his/her interest.
  • “My Favorites”: Add institutions of interest to “My Favorites.” Of these, compare four side-to-side simultaneously.
  • Data Export: View, Download, Print, and Share/Save via email as a spreadsheet

Takeaway:

  • All facts at your fingertips: Each college in the country has a page with relevant data, including information regarding cost and financial aid, admissions, programs offered, graduation rates, athletics, and other general statistics.
  • Not the end-all, be-all: College Navigator is all about the nitty-gritty. Use in conjunction with other sites to get a well-rounded view of an institution. Great resources are linked to Navigator: College Affordability & Transparency Center, FAFSA, and College Scorecard to make the search site more full-featured.
  • Cons: The immensity of information can be overwhelming. To researchers of higher institutions or parents who love to crunch numbers, the site is a dream come true. But to a student looking for the first time, the data can be bit overkill.

College Raptor

Did you ever hear the saying, “The more you put into it, the more you get out of it?” For the College Raptor search site, the old adage holds true. While sign-up for the site asks for the same basic information, the input of more information (such as Income/Assets of Student and Parent, Estimated GPA, SAT or ACT score) promises a more comprehensive and detailed output.

Not a flashy site, College Raptor makes up for the lack of frills with the facts and advice it spits out: A customized list of college matches in minutes, a comparison of costs and scholarships, and advice on how to maximize admissions chances and scholarship potential. College Raptor offers articles/advice on everything from last-minute SAT prep tips to employment law.

Get started:

  • Registration: Basic (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Graduation, High School, User/Password)
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly
  • Search Methods: By school or by preferences (Academic Major and College Preferences, Student Information, Family and Financial Information)
  • Results: The website narrows down the search to the number of colleges the student would like to apply to.
  • “My Favorites”: Add institutions of interest to “My Favorites.” Of these, compare four side-to-side simultaneously.
  • Data Export: Share/Save via email

Takeaway:

  • Multitude of Tools: College Match, Student Loan FinderWhat If, Net Price Calculator
  • What Makes College Raptor Unique: Discover acceptance odds (Huge Reach, Reach, Near Safety, Safety, Match), estimate a student’s net price at any 4-year college in the U.S., compare schools to find the best academic, financial, and cultural fit.
  • Cons: No simultaneous side-by-side comparison of colleges, no spreadsheets

College Scorecard

Like College Navigator, the College Scorecard is a user-friendly resource hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. The site gives access to information about the cost and value of postsecondary institutions across the country and allows users to compare data across institutions. With data from IPEDS, the National Student Loan Dataset (NSLDS), and the U.S. Treasury, it sheds light on student demographics and test scores. It also provides unique information on median salary 10 years after college entry for Title IV aid recipients, median federal student debt post-graduation, and typical monthly loan payment.

If a potential student is looking for more than statistics, then College Scorecard is certainly only one piece of the puzzle to consider. However, like a collectible baseball card of your favorite player, it lays out the details in a very easy-to-read format. Complete with pie charts and bar graphs, it’s definitely a site to use during the college search.

Get started:

  • Registration: None
  • Ease of Use: Extremely User-Friendly; right to the point
  • Search Methods: By school or by preferences (Program/Degrees, Location, Size)
  • Advanced Filters: Type of School, Specialized Mission, Religious Affiliation
  • Results: College Scorecard displays as many institutions that match the student. The results initially display location, number of students, average annual cost, graduation rate, and salary after attending. Sort results in a number of ways depending on your preference. Clicking on the “scorecard” leads to more detail.
  • Compare: Scorecard gives the user the capability to compare five schools at a time. The comparisons are broken down by category and displayed as bar graphs. Interested in a specific school? Bar graphs can display the results for that particular school in a different color bar than the others.
  • Data Export: The College Scorecard allows the user to share comparisons and school information via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email.

Takeaway:

  • Just the Facts: The College Scorecard may share a lot of data, but its format is appealing and reader-friendly.There are no outstanding links to distract the user from the job at hand (especially for those whose attention is fleeting). Besides learning about financial aid and GI Bill benefits, starting your FAFSA, and calculating aid, Scorecard is all about the facts.
  • Great Use of Bar Graphs: Other search sites are great with displaying tables; however, more times than not, they are overwhelming. College Scorecard goes the extra step and formats each comparison as a bar graph.
  • So Inclusive: If the user is interested in searching by religious affiliation, Scorecard is all-inclusive. From African Methodist Episcopal to Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, there are 63 affiliations to choose from.
  • Cons: However, this does not hold true if you’re interested in including more than one academic program in a search. Only one program can be chosen at time. So if the searcher is interested in both dance and say, child psychology, there would have to be two separate searches.

Cappex

If Target is a one-stop shop, Cappex is the ultimate one-stop college search site. From comparing schools, calculating admissions chances, applying for financial aid, to just figuring out if a school is a good match for you, Cappex has “everything college” under the sun, including direct links to college websites where users can begin the process of starting college applications.

Borrowing features from Facebook, the platform’s graphics and tools undeniably appeal to teenagers. Additionally, by working one-on-one with colleges, Cappex helps colleges target the appropriate students and connect—some would say, like a college matchmaker. If money is a concern, Cappex can uncover millions of dollars in scholarships from colleges, universities, private companies, foundations, and more to help pay for school.

Get started:

  • Registration: Basic (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Graduation, High School, User/Password) and Ethnicity
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly; Lots of different directions to choose from
  • Search Methods: By school or by preferences (Program, Location, Size, Religious Affiliation, Type of Campus)
  • Advanced Filters: The more you complete your profile, the more comprehensive the search becomes. Complete your profile with academic information, family and financial information, and activities.
  • Results: Cappex matches prospective college student with as many schools that meet the criteria and preferences.
  • “My College List”: Add institutions of interest to “My College List.” Of these, take notes, make comparisons, learn important dates for applications, rank the colleges, financial aid, housing, transfer students, update your status, and archive your previous searches/results.
  • Compare: Cappex gives the user the capability to compare three schools side-by-side at a time. Make comparisons regarding admissions, tuition & costs, campus life, and diversity.
  • Data Export: Archive colleges of interest

Takeaway:

  • Can I Be of Assistance?: Based on the user’s registration info and preferences, Cappex recommends potential compatible colleges which will personally reach out to the user. Often times, Cappex will pair users with colleges they are not yet familiar with, which opens up the playing field.
  • Scholarship Galore: Cappex is not only a college matchmaker, but a scholarship matchmaker as well. Uncover scholarships from colleges, universities, private companies, and foundations to help pay for school by simply filling out a free profile. Looking for athletic scholarships? Create a free profile to put yourself on recruiters’ radar.
  • Multiple Tools: What are My Chances?® Calculator, The Cappex College Fit Meter, Campus Visit Planner, Cappies Awards (Students’ Top College Rankings)
  • Join the College Discussion: See what college students are saying about each school to learn more about their academics, extracurriculars, and campus life. Cappex features more than 1.4 million reviews. By interacting with colleges, applying to scholarships, and navigating Cappex, users can play the Cappex Cap Challenge and gain access to apparel and scholarships.
  • Cons: Although colleges can be archived, comparisons cannot be printed, emailed, or shared.

Naviance

Unlike other college search sites on this list, Naviance’s platform is only accessible to users whose K–12 institutions partner with them to provide students with college planning and career assessment tools. Currently, more than 7 million students at nearly 8,500 schools in 100 countries use Naviance.

Not only is Naviance the ultimate, comprehensive source for anything and everything college, it also allows students to create a personalized plan that helps them make decisions throughout their academic journey. Akin to an online portfolio, registered users keep all their important documents and information in one place: Teacher recommendations, test scores, transcripts, resumes, calendars, and more.

Get started:

  • Registration: About Me Profile
  • Ease of Use: User-Friendly
  • Search Methods: By school or by criteria
  • Advanced Filters: SuperMatch™ allows the users to narrow their college search by using 23 criteria, ranging from location and ethnicity to Greek Life and disability services
  • Results: Results update in real time as preferences are entered, showing a percentage match for each school. The more search options filled, the more accurate the results may be.
  • “Pin Your Favorites”: To learn more about a school, click its name. The expanded view will explain the percentage score and also provide ways to connect with the school. Pin favorites for comparison, for future reference, and to keep up-to-date on important dates
  • Compare: Using the schools saved as favorites, compare any three side-by-side. At any time, save results of searches for future reference.
  • Data Export: Save your searches or share by Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Takeaway:

  • Connectivity: Students, families, and staff work together throughout the whole process. Not only does this keep everyone in the loop, it reduces time and effort needed to relay information and documents to everyone involved. With a simple click, all approved users can gain access to the student’s portfolios, searches, plans, requirements, goals, and more. Communicate, apply online, reach out to college communities, schedule college visits.
  • Assessments: Unsure of goals, strengths, personality? Naviance has a trove of assessments to help students discover who they are—StrengthsExplorer ®, Do What You Are®, Learning Style Inventory™, MI Advantage™
  • To College and Beyond: As we know, college is just the beginning. And to Naviance, it’s never too early to look beyond college graduation. From career profilers to career clusters, the resources for career planning are plentiful and helpful.
  • Cons: Naviance is only accessible to those students whose districts are partnered with them.

No single college search website is one-size-fits-all, and none is all things for all students. Using college search websites in conjunction with one another will guarantee a broader picture of what one can expect from the college experience. In addition, engage with current college students and alumni, if given a chance. Visit the campus, speak to college representatives at college fairs, peruse the college’s school newspaper… there are many ways to discover if a college is the perfect fit!

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