September 2012-E-Newsletter

posted Sep 17, 2012, 12:23 AM by Glenda Durano   [ updated Sep 17, 2012, 1:07 AM ]

College Research: Up Close and Personal

         In today’s world of Google-mania, most high school students are able to successfully navigate those notoriously circuitous university websites.  The problem with researching a college by simply exploring its own website, however, is that the student is basing his decision on highly biased information.  Although a college website can be chocked full of facts and figures, at its heart, the website is nothing more than a fancy PR tool.  Certainly, a student should look at the school’s statistics—student/teacher ratio, graduation rates, financial aid availability, incoming student profile, etc. as well as considerations such as distance from home, location, and average cost of attendance. (Note:  Average actual cost of attendance is DIFFERENT from the stated “price tag.”) He should research what types of opportunities and facilities the school provides, particularly in his potential major, and any criteria that he has developed should be carefully scrutinized, not only individually to see if a school “has it,” but also comparatively with the other schools on his list. (Note:  Before a student ever begins his college search, he should be able to articulate his college criteria based on his academic, social, financial, spiritual, and personal needs.  If he cannot do that, he needs to stop and back up.  Otherwise, he has no basis for weeding through schools. )

        When perusing a college website, do your best to ignore the smiling students sitting under 100-year-old oak trees or people painted purple at a football game.  Sure, you’ll have time for all that, but that’s not what college is about.  And let’s face it—no college is going to tell you, “Our science department really isn’t that strong.  If you want to study biology, you should check out School XYZ” or “Our campus is dead on the weekends.”   Take the information you garner from a college website with a grain of salt.

        I usually advise that my students use the school website as one of the final steps of the college research process. The first thing I recommend (after a student has developed his initial list of 15-20 schools) is to evaluate the college through a third-party website such as or a compilation like The Fiske Guide. 

        The best method by far, however, of researching schools is what I call “the personal touch.”  When a student researches a school, he should develop questions regarding his personal criteria and the school’s ability to fulfill them.  These questions should be insightful, and not easily answered by the website.  The student should contact his admissions counselor for each school ideally by phone (way out of the comfort zone for most teenagers) or email and discuss his questions.  “Demonstrated interest,” e.g., a student taking initiative to contact the school, is one of the top ten things that admissions officers seek in potential students.  Not only does this contact introduce the student to one of the people who will ultimately be deciding whether or not he is a good “fit” for the school, but it will also give the student more information about the university.

        If at all possible, the student should also visit the school (See “The Value of Visits” newsletter for tips.) and meet face to face with admissions officer.  If a visit is impossible due to financial or time constraints, the student should at least try to meet the college representative at the local college fair. 

        Utilizing “the personal touch” in researching schools shows admissions officers that the student is truly interested in a school and is willing to take initiative in order to discover what he needs to know.  That’s a characteristic that colleges find highly desirable in potential students.  And even in college admissions, as is true so often in life, “who you know” (the admissions officer) can be more important than “what you know” (test scores and GPA).  That’s because grades and scores are taught, but initiative and responsibility are part of a person’s character.

        If you have a student who is in high school and needs one-on-one guidance, please contact College Advising and Planning Services at 505-918-7669 or write to  Our comprehensive program includes career assessments, activity advising, financial aid information, creation of a college list, tips on school visits, application assistance, essay editing, and much more!

Remember our free “College Knowledge” workshop at Cherry Hills Library on Monday, September 24th at 6:30 pm:  “How to Build a College List."

As always, please forward this newsletter to other friends who might be interested in college planning information.  Do remember to check out the “upcoming deadlines” section of the website for a monthly calendar of what you should be doing this month to stay on track with the college planning process.

Additionally, you can “like” our FACEBOOK page (College Advising and Planning) where I post interesting articles and videos about college planning.