Let the Filtration Begin
What We Now Know and What We Soon Will
Thanks to the exercises in the previous chapters , you now know three very important things (things most college students have no clue of):
1. The specific experience and environment you want college to provide you…the Rank filter,
2. How much you can pay before you run out of money…the Resource filter and
3. The maximum you should pay in total for the experience to prove financially worthwhile…the Return filter.
Now you can begin the process of searching for colleges or programs that will satisfy all your criteria. Fortunately for us in the internet age students armed with foundational objectives can now turn to a number of free websites to begin the otherwise daunting process of filtering through all their college options.
When researching and selecting schools I advise prospective college students to utilize four primary tools, in the following order: search engines, interactive sorters, college reviews, school websites and interviews. Let’s walk through the process together.
Remember, our number one priority needs to be our number one priority, so let’s make sure your personal Rank data is at the forefront of your search. What were the top two or three things you want a college to provide for you? It’s time to fire up your favorite search engine and search for rank-related key words. Almost inevitably you can find troves of publications highlighting colleges according to any number of categories. When you find such information, the results should comprise your short list of options to explore first.
For example, if by all means necessary you want access to top notch athletic facilities over your next few years then type something like “colleges with great athletic facilities” into the search bar. The result from a search engine yields articles from College Prowler, The Huffington Post, Hogville, Today, Education Portal and many others on this very topic. Likely you wouldn’t have otherwise run across these publications in your day-to-day internet meanderings. Likewise, type in “colleges with high marriage rates” if you objective is to graduate with an MRS degree and so forth.
Now read these articles, listing the names of schools mentioned. Once you have done so for two or three of your top criterion, you can utilize your other tools more effectively as you continue to explore other “rank” objectives as well as cost parameters.
Nowadays we have websites that do the bulk of the filtration work for us if we know our parameters. However, I recommend these as a secondary step because they tend to sort the colleges for you based on very basic, pre-set categories which may or may not be according to what you ultimately want. That said, in terms of broadly disclosed/easily comparable factors such as cost, locales, degrees and student body populations these tools can be a huge time saver. We’ll use them largely to compare, on an apples-to-apples basis, the colleges which we already have on our radar via search engine as well as to open our eyes to lesser known schools which may not have made an article writer’s list.
My favorite three websites for interactive research and comparison are as follows:
• Big Future
In my opinion, this is the best of the sorters I’ve personally played with. When you go to their homepage, you will see the usual broad categories on the left. Where it gets interesting is when you click on any of those and see that Big Future has allowance to much more specifically emphasize or ignore any number of subcategories.
- College Prowler
While this website employs a less dynamic sorter than Big Future does, it does have a great college comparison tool where you can compare, head to head, the colleges you found through search engines or sorters. It features a number of categories, including such minutia as off campus dining, computers and drug safety. Perhaps best of all, College Prowler advertises itself as “by students, for students.” Indeed you will find that real-live students, and not paid journalists, provide the ratings and related feedback from ground level experiences.
- Ignite Your Faith (Formerly Campus Life)
If you’re specifically looking for Christian Schools, and want searches more geared toward spiritual campus dynamics, this website will help you cut to the chase. Also, if you’re looking to attend a secular institution, I recommend bookmarking this page for articles and features specifically geared toward Christian students regardless of where you attend school.
College Rankings and Reviews
Several high profile media outlets publish college reviews each year and compile their lists of their picks for best of the bunch. While I recommend making your own “Top 10s” based on your own criteria and findings first, these compilations can aid you tremendously as you seek to nail down the specifics of a few institutions from another perspective. Note that anytime anyone ranks one college as better than another, it usually pays to research what criteria they utilized first. Everyone’s different, right? When Forbes ranks Princeton as their #1 pick this says nothing as to whether you will agree. But if Princeton showed up on your list, too, perhaps you will find confirmation of your choice as well as some meaningful information from the related article.
The top such reviews include:
- US News and World Report: This is perhaps the granddaddy and most popularly esteemed of them all.
- Princeton Review: The website also contains a good “school research service.”
- Unigo: This website provides ratings by students, including ratings in some odd categories that wouldn’t find inclusion in the more conventional reviews, such as “Top 10 hipster colleges” and “International love.” Note that to explore very far you must log in to Facebook.
Of course, schools build their websites as marketing tools, seeking to entice you to come by shedding the best light possible on the experience. This is why we check them out so late in the process. Now do so for the handful of schools which look interesting, with a specific focus on the topics which directly interest you. Particularly, look to make sure the information you’ve compiled from general websites is up to date and note any major changes or announcements of upcoming changes which may affect you. In addition, always take a good hard look at each school’s financial aid or tuition pages, noting how its particular aid programs may benefit you personally. The prices published are usually far from static.
As with career determinations, I find it most valuable to get information about colleges straight from the horse’s mouth. Once you’ve narrowed your field down to a handful of schools, pick up the phone or utilize social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn to speak to college representatives, students and alumni. Ask them about their experiences and opinions regarding what you’ve found through impersonal research. You may find the generals to look good, but the actual situation distasteful. For example, maybe you’re enthralled by what you read about the nightlife of Institution A but personal contacts clue you in that women must deal with safety issues after hours, whereas at Institution B, which also has a desirable nightlife, students don’t report such issues.
As you sort and winnow your myriad options, it helps to have a centralized place to keep track of your findings. To this end I encourage students to set up a general worksheet to rank schools by, as well as information sheets on each college. The sheets will vary according to one’s primary scoring considerations.
Let’s suppose a guy named Fred wanted to go to a school with a strong engineering program, with a good record of job placement, a vibrant intramural sports program, a good girl/guy ratio and of course, fits within his budget. Fred’s centralized comparison sheet might look something like this:
|College||Engineering Program Rigor||Graduate Job Prospects||Intramurals||Girl/guy ratio||Cost Data|
Then Fred would set up an information sheet for the various colleges which made the cut, something akin to this to allow more comprehensive notes:
|Engineering Program Rigor:|
|My Shot at Getting a Job after Graduation:|
|My Shot at Playing Intramurals:|
|My Shot at Finding Mrs. Right:|
Eventually you and Fred will each need to decide where to land, but such a process should go a long, long way to making sure you find someplace ultimately affordable.
Given the costs of college and the net worth of the typical student, I can hear the objections to the affordology-driven results already. “But Al, when I funnel everything through the three Rs nothing drops through that I can live with.” So what, exactly, do you do when all the colleges you like cost too much? What do you do when you can “afford” college via Rank and Return filters, but you don’t feel comfortable with the level of debt it would entail all the same because your resources get hammered in the process? What if some schools passed muster, but you really, really have your heart set on someplace else? What if you simply just want to get through college for less expense than the sticker price? What now?
Is it now time, not to dismay at the unaffordability of college, but to ask how to make college affordable.
Let’s explore a variety of strategies you can employ to tip the scales in your favor, perhaps resulting in more quality options revealing themselves as bearable.