Choosing the right college or university is only part of the journey. Students still need to complete a rigorous application process that includes an in-depth look at their academic scores, extracurricular activities and writing prowess. Most have to figure out how they plan to fund their education once they’ve been accepted. High school counselors can provide some guidance; however, students and parents may want to consider outside support, as well. This month’s column looks at sites designed to help guide parents through the process.
Selecting an Institution
Many high schools use a service called Naviance to guide students in choosing a post-secondary school. Naviance has a parent portal that is quite useful, as well. Aside from what your high school provides, here are three additional resources to investigate.
Youniversitytv.com is a good starting point. The site offers a collection of videos for colleges and universities across the country. Colleges are ranked in categories such as state, size, cost and even the coolest dorms or most attractive campus. The video tours are entertaining and provide prospective students with a peek at the university and the culture. Some of the information on the site appears to be a few years out of date, though. I’d recommend checking the college’s primary website for updated content once you’ve found one that piques your interest. Look for headings such as “prospective students,” “campus life,” or “virtual tour.”
CollegeVine takes a full-service approach to the college selection process, referring to itself as an online college guidance platform. It is designed for anyone in high school with content ranging from freshman year strategies through graduation. The site starts with an exhaustive, but comprehensive 80 item checklist. Creating a profile that includes personal interests, academic scores and extracurricular activities is the first step. Students work their way through the list with guidance available at every point along the way.
CollegeVine provides help with essay writing, university selection and building a strong resume that potential colleges value. The site’s Chancing Engine “uses over 100,000 data points to calculate students’ real chances of admission to hundreds of schools.” Pieces of the site are free for anyone to use; however, the uniquely valuable portions of the website require a membership. I could not find any more specific cost information. CollegeVine appears to be a fantastic site for students and parents alike. My research indicated the website continues to grow in popularity and is highly rated by those who have taken advantage of the services provided.
Another option in the college guidance category is Admit.me. The site is similar to CollegeVine, but students are assigned an admissions consultant that they can work with one on one throughout the applications process. Admit.me uses a credit approach to provide services. Families purchase credits through one of two plans. Credits are used for expert review of materials, answers to personal questions, and general support in the process. The site claims to be 30 percent more affordable than traditional consulting services. Founded in 2017, the site is a relative newcomer to the space, so validating its costs and success rate is difficult. Admit.me is worth exploring.
The Application Process
Common App is probably the most important and most well-known site on this list. Common App allows prospective students to apply to several institutions at once by collecting the basic information every university requires for admission. The site has students enter some biographical information, write an essay, and then select the institutions they would like to attend.
Applicants will then be asked to answer additional questions unique to each one of their selections. These questions often are structured essays that require students to craft a well thought out response. Common App allows applicants to save their progress along the way, so this does not need to be done in one sitting.
There are over 700 member institutions connected through Common App that parents and students can search through before applying. Sites like CollegeVine and Admit.me offer services to help students complete the Common App process, as well. There are no fees to use the site itself; however, there are fees associated with applying to about half of the colleges and universities connected to the site. Fee waivers are available for those who qualify.
Paying for School
The first place families will want to visit is the official site for the FAFSA application. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid can be found at studentaid.ed.gov. I recommend using the FAFSA4caster tool before going through the whole process. The online forecaster will provide you an estimate of your funding opportunities and eligibility. The site suggests using this tool by the time your student is a junior in high school, if not earlier. Based on your results, you will want to complete the full FAFSA application or search for other potential funding sources, such as scholarships.
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation developed Scholar Snapp. The site partners with the Common App to help students apply for scholarships. The partnership allows students to re-use the information entered into the Common App to apply for multiple scholarships at once. The technology that drives the site helps to pair students with over $30 million in scholarship opportunities. The best part? It is free to use! Click the “Financial Aid Resources” tab inside of your Common App account to set up a connection to Scholar Snapp.
Scholly was developed by Christopher Grey after a fantastic story of determination. As a high school junior, Grey spent seven months finding and applying for scholarships across the country. The result was awards of over $1 million in scholarship money. The struggle to find and apply opened his eyes to a broken system, and Scholly was born. SchollySearch uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to connect students with funding sources that are personalized to meet their needs. Each scholarship is given a SchollyScore based on the student’s profile. The higher the score, the better match the scholarship. SchollyEditor is another resource available to members. The online editor proofreads for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. The system offers suggestions so students can put their best foot forward. The Scholly services are $44.99 annually. This seems like a small price to pay for gaining access to all of the scholarships in the database, along with state-of-the-art proofreading software.
The digital world in which we live has fundamentally changed the college admission process over the last 20 years. Families should begin planning even as early as a student’s freshman year of high school. Don’t wait! Take advantage of the tools out there designed to simplify the process and elevate your child’s chances for success.
Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the director of technology for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School district in Northeast Ohio. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.