College websites are notoriously difficult to navigate. We live in a digital age, and all sorts of information may be found online; this is true of colleges as well. However, the challenge of finding the information you actually want persists. How can you easily and quickly access information about a school when researching it online?
Of course, we have created University Fact Sheets to help you in this endeavor, but there are colleges we have not yet created these for. In this article, then, we’ll explore how best to use college websites, and how you can find all the information you need to know online. Let’s get started!
Before You Begin
We recommend taking a moment to plan before you begin just Googling the names of universities. Blindly browsing a school’s website isn’t likely to net you any useful information, while a targeted search often bears fruitful results. Prior to starting your research, compile a specific list of what information you are looking for from the school.
Every student has different research priorities, but these are some of the most common pieces of information our students want to know:
- When are applications due?
- What are the application requirements?
- What is social life on campus like?
- What is housing on campus like?
- Can I keep doing the activities I participated in in high school at this college?
- What financial aid does this college offer?
- How much does this school cost to attend?
- What are the options for your desired major?
- Does the college have honors programs?
You should determine what information you want to know about a school and write it down. Then, you can take notes as you go. We often include links to the pages where information is in our notes so we can reference the pages later if need be; this makes coming back to recheck information much easier. Once this is sorted, you can begin finding information.
Now, we’ll go through the various categories of information, and where you can find each on a college’s website.
This can be found on the school’s admissions page. Searching for “School name admissions” will usually result in this being the top search result. The design of these pages varies greatly from school to school, but look for a link that says “freshman admissions,” this will be the subpage with the information specific to you (unless you are a transfer student, in which case look for “transfer admissions”).
This page will tell you when admissions deadlines are, and what you will need when applying, including any supplemental essay questions you may need to answer. Some schools provide statistics on the incoming class as well, including total number of applicants and admitted students, average grades and standardized test scores, and demographic information. Not all schools provide this on their site, however.
The Common Data Set
To find this information for all schools, we recommend using the Common Data Set. The goal of this is to provide a uniform set of information about colleges freely to anyone interested, with the express purpose of allowing high school students to be well informed about admissions.
To find information about a specific school, search for “School name common data set.” Not all schools provide all information to the set, but it is one of the most complete pictures of admissions statistics for a given school you can find. If you want to understand your chances of admission, we recommend comparing your profile to that of an average admitted student in the data.
This includes information on student activities, housing, and the social life on campus generally. Housing information is the easiest to find on a school’s site, through the school’s housing office. This can be found by searching “School name housing” or “School name residential life.”
These pages will explain the housing and dining options on and off campus, and whether or not students are required to live on campus (and for how long). All top 20 schools require students to live on campus for at least a year, and most top 50 schools do as well.
Registered student organizations (RSOs) occasionally have a separate web presence. Most schools, however, maintain a list of student organizations. These may be found by searching “School name students organizations.” There is usually a link to a full list of organizations.
These lists are generally alphabetized, and can contain hundreds of entries. We recommend searching for a specific activity if you want to see how it is represented at a university. Not every school has a club for every interest, but at larger colleges especially, there are usually enough students to support a thriving collection of organizations.
Social life is sometimes discussed on a school’s website, but we have found the best place to learn about this is on more unofficial pages, where current students can discuss these topics more freely. A university’s associated Reddit page (known as a subreddit), is a great place to find answers to these questions, though they are often less polished than official sources.
Information about tuition costs and financial aid options at a college is usually found through the bursar’s office or the financial aid office. The easiest way to find this is by searching for “School name financial aid” or “school name tuition.” Most schools have this information easily accessible online.
For the cost of tuition, many schools have a total price calculator, where you can enter limited financial information and receive an estimate of how much you will be charged, and what financial aid you will be offered. These are not promises of financial aid, but can serve as a good approximation of what it will cost you to attend that particular college.
Financial aid pages will discuss the scholarships a school offers. Most top schools have need-based aid alone, but other schools have multiple smaller scholarships, or different aid options you need to apply for separately. Honors colleges especially are a good source for additional merit-based scholarships.
Academic information is more dispersed, as it depends on what specifically you wish to study, and how the school itself is organized. Colleges within a university, and departments within colleges, have their own pages. These are good sources of information about the majors these programs offer, graduation requirements of these programs, and special opportunities these programs offer (such as honors programs).
These pages will also tell you about professors in these departments, and any research they are undertaking. If professors have their own research labs or initiatives, these will be linked here. If you are interested in pursuing research during your time in undergrad, these pages give you an overview of what options are available.
In order to find pages for a major, you should begin by searching for “college name majors,” as not every university offers every major. We recommend reading the full list of majors offered by a school, to see which ones most appeal to you. Even if you already know what you are interested in academically, this can still reveal options you had not considered previously, such as subfields within business or biology.
Lists of courses, and current course offerings, are found through the registrar’s site. You can find this by searching for “college name courses,” or “college name course catalog.” This will take you to the university’s current course catalog. While these are regularly updated, it will give you an idea of what options are available to you at that particular school.
For information on the academic rigor of a school or program, or how much homework you might expect, we again recommend a school’s page on Reddit. These are inhabited by current and former students, and frequently answer questions from curious applicants. Reddit’s own search function is poor, but if you search on Google for “school name workload,” Reddit posts are often in the top results.
Take all answers you read with a grain of salt. These are not vetted representatives of a school, but instead anonymous internet accounts. While they can provide useful information, they should not be seen as infallible.
Some students have specific concerns, regarding dietary needs, health services, accessibility, or safety. Colleges have specific pages dedicated to all of these things, but navigating to them on the college’s site itself is often difficult. We recommend beginning in an external search engine, and searching for the name of the college and the specific concern or service you are interested in.
College websites contain a lot of useful information for potential students, if you can access it. While the websites are notoriously difficult to navigate, we hope that this article has provided an atlas with which you can explore them. Learning about colleges is the first step to determining which should go on your college list, and where you will eventually apply to and attend.
If you want help building a college list, or want to hear how we can help you with every stage of the notoriously difficult application process, schedule a free consultation today. We have a depth of experience helping students get into top colleges, and are always happy to hear from you.