There are more than 2,200 four-year colleges out there and you probably don’t have enough time to visit all of them! We visit colleges all the time – we’ve visited hundreds, in fact – and we still won’t be able to see them all!
So at some point, you’re going to have to rely on the handy-dandy Interwebs, researching college websites. What should you focus on as you do that digging? You might be tempted to start with admissions info, but we recommend that you start in a few other places. Here’s a list of what you should look at as you’re researching college websites (and if you don’t want to read all of the blah blah below we made a little vid for you above!)
Mission: most colleges have a mission statement or something that helps you understand their educational philosophy. Is there a social justice vibe on campus? Does the college involve students in service learning, intensive research, or emphasize a global approach? If you read each college’s mission statement, you should start to get a feel for their priorities, which will play a role in the experience you have there as a student.
Fast Facts: almost every college has a tab somewhere on their website called ‘About.’ Most of the time, you should be able to find a page with some quick nuggets of information that you probably want to know: how many undergrads are there? Grad students? Student-to-faculty ratio? Average number of students per class? Location? Number of student clubs and organizations? Housing availability? Notable academic programs and rankings? This is all good baseline data as you get into the meat of your investigation.
Majors: this is the heart of what you need to know. Regardless of whether or not you know what you’ll study in college, YOU SHOULD LOOK at each college’s academic offerings. If you DO know what you want to study, dig deep into that department. Instead of worrying about whether or not you can get IN, let’s figure out what it will take for you to get OUT. In four years. With a degree.
So find the list of undergraduate majors and click on one that interests you (we’re going to come back here and click on another one in a few minutes….). Go to the department and see if they have a suggested four year course plan. Sometimes clicking this way will take you to the course catalog – that’s fine! Read the names of the courses, and expand them to read the descriptions if you can. Do these courses sound interesting to you? Will this hold your attention for four years?
If you’re thinking about a double major, or a minor, go back and look at that academic department as well. What courses will you have to take to complete a second major or minor?
I forgot to mention an important rule: you are not allowed to use the search bar. Get comfortable poking around using the navigation options they give you. You never know what you’ll discover when you are looking for something else.
You may have noticed that this section has been the longest. It’s the most important part of your research! In fact, by digging into each college’s academics, faculty, and course offerings, you are actually doing at least part of the prep work for a supplemental essay that many colleges ask: the ‘Why Us?’ essay. A strong answer to this question often includes some reference to how you will take advantage of, and/or how you will add to, the academic experience offered on campus.
Activities: here’s the thing. You’re going to spend 100% of your time in college doing two things: academic stuff, and non-academic stuff. So the activities are important, because we need to find out if the people at this college are ‘your people.’ What do they do when they aren’t studying? Who will you hang out with, eat pizza with, work out with, play ultimate frisbee with? Do they have clubs for people who like what you like? Checking out the ‘Campus Life’ tab will help you answer these questions.
Admissions: OK, now it’s time. If the college passes the test on all of the above – it has academic and non-academic stuff that works for you, NOW it’s time to check out the admitted student profile. Most colleges have this information on their website: the middle 50% of admitted students’ GPAs and test scores.
- Tip: make sure you know if the college is reporting a WEIGHTED GPA or an Unweighted GPA. See this post for more details on that. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples as you figure out how you size up in their applicant pool.
- Second tip: any college with an admit rate of less than 30% is ‘reach’ for everyone. DO NOT ASSUME that your high grades and test scores, even if they are in the range or even above the range that colleges report, will automatically get you in if they are highly selective. Holistic admissions means that students with lower GPAs and test scores may be able to surpass you, depending on the college’s institutional priorities.
Check out their Socials: most colleges have a YouTube channel, a Snapchat, an Insta, a Twitter account. Check them out! See what info they are pushing out about themselves, their students, what’s going on on their campuses. Check other sites as well, like Campus Reel, to see videos that real students post about their college experiences. Remember – the whole point of learning how to research a college online is to help you learn how to determine whether or not you want to apply. “Are these my people?” should be your guiding question as you do this research.
We hope this information helps you as you’re researching college websites, and deciding which colleges will be lucky enough to have YOU apply for admission!
If you’d like to see our writeups and photo albums from the colleges our team has visited, check out this page.