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Invest in a College and Career Research Tool

STRATEGY: Provide students and families with access to a college database and information system.

The college search, application, and admissions process can be overwhelming, as information can be fragmented or partial. Likewise, outcomes for college return on investment are ambiguous, and parents of college-bound students do not always know where to find data or how to interpret information in an actionable way. When it comes to higher education, families often suffer from a crisis of too much data and not enough knowledge. Schools are tasked with supporting families with college databases, information systems, and related resources that are coherent, comprehensive, and allow for standardized comparisons across institutions.

In the absence of a federal system that links students’ college experience and later earnings, states and private companies have tried to fill the gap. Google, with its google college search tool, and LinkedIn, with its higher education institutional pages, have taken up the charge of filling in knowledge gaps in existing college databases. However, comprehensive financial data is difficult to identify for many schools and challenging to link with other available data. Ideally, a master database would connect key information retrieved from colleges, the Department of Education, tax records, and other sources while providing the necessary and critical security protections. In the absence of a comprehensive system, however, there are numerous supplemental resources that can provide this information in a piecemeal manner.


College databases and information system can be informal, based on the school counseling office’s internal database, or it can come from external sources. Some of the most prominent information systems are the College Board, College InSight, the Department of Education College Scorecard, Education Trust, IES/NCES Navigator, Peterson’s, and the Princeton Review.

As the college admission process grows more competitive every year, parents and students need information systems to summarize pertinent factors for college selection and admission, such as paying for college, picking a safe school that is a good fit, and ensuring that their children get the most out of a college education. The following are further supplemental information systems and tools for families to prepare for college.

BenchPrep: Provides study aid on a device of students’ choice.

Big Future: An affiliate of the ACT/SAT test taker College Board; allows students to conduct basic research on colleges and families to explore career and college payment options.

  • Cappex: Offers school comparison, admission calculation, financial analysis, and best-fit data.
  • Chegg: A “matchmaking” site for students and colleges.
  • College Confidential: Students enter twenty preferences and are matched against a database of schools.
  • College InSight: Based on the details of a specific college or an interesting topic. Parents and students can build a table of different variables to compare schools across multiple metrics.
  • College Navigator: Developed from the National Center for Educational Statistics; lists reliable data about U.S. colleges and is searchable by state, area code, degree level, and college type.
  • College Raptor: Assesses school “fit” in terms of environment, academics, and affordability. As parents and students develop this list, they should include a broad range of schools, including some that may seem beyond the student’s reach.
  • Fastweb: Scholarship providers resource that outlines funding opportunities for students through applications, financial aid details, promotions, and contests.
  • Net price calculators for financial cost data: Families should disregard college websites’ stated annual costs for tuition and room and board—this information is incomplete and inaccurate. Instead, families should use a net price calculator to ascertain an estimated financial aid package for prospective four-year colleges.
  • Niche: Provides access to a large volume of statistics as well as student reviews and letter grades for different aspects of student life; schools are listed in different categories based on reviews.
  • Peterson’s: Centered around application timelines as well as a search for schools based on customized criteria; offers helpful tips about choosing colleges, applying to college, and getting financial aid and scholarships.
  • PossibilityU: Helps students and parents with the college admission process through custom college searches, financial aid support, and tips to increase admission outcomes.
  • StatFuse: Informed by high school graduates’ feedback; lets students calculate chances to college, increase acceptance likelihood, take virtual tours, and review cost details, financial aid, and safety data.
  • Unigo: Based on student feedback; schools are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 for several factors, including campus safety, political activity, arts culture, Greek life, and intellectual life.

First Steps to Consider

  • Parents can promote the following college and career readiness skills:
  • Arrange for student to speak formally to a recent college grad.
  • Attend college fairs and make campus visits.
  • Complete a college financial aid calculator estimate and complete the FAFSA financial aid form.
  • Determine application deadlines and submit college applications. * Make an early start building a college network.
  • Ensure that student is involved in extracurricular activities.
  • Establish a homework time every night and maintain a focus on a strong GPA.
  • Explore career interests and consider different types of postsecondary options.
  • Help student with time management and executive function.
  • Make sure student get to know their faculty advisor.
  • Provide student opportunities to practice critical thinking.
  • Have student take the PLAN or the PSAT, as well as the SAT and ACT.
  • Teach college financial literacy.

Complexities & Pitfalls

  • Examine existing sources of data related to colleges from the platforms highlighted above.
  • Encourage students and families to conduct in-person visits. Visit nearby colleges or universities to get a sense of what to expect. If possible, students should visit a large university, a small college, and a midsize school. They should consider walking around the campus, attending academic buildings, and having lunch in the student center. Families should talk to college students in person or talk to a student ambassador via phone, Facetime, or videochat arranged by the campus outreach center. Students and parents should use the in-person visits to get a sense of the size of the college, types of academic classes offered, extracurricular activities, student demographics, comfort with the level of community in which the college is located, and college financial support.
  • Examine overall college statistics. Families should determine if the prospective college’s graduation rate exceeds the national average of 59 percent after six years of enrollment, and if the retention rate exceeds the national average of 60 percent. Retention rates are also a good measure of student happiness and success at a college.

Guiding Questions

  • How does your school currently support student and parent interactions with college databases and information systems?
  • How can your staff integrate supplemental college databases into the school’s existing college- and career-readiness program?
  • Do you offer a formal pipeline to connect current students to alumni at prospective schools?
  • How are the college database needs of your school’s students distinct from other schools or districts?