Originally Posted: Aug 12, 2019
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2020
When it comes to researching colleges, the tools you use can mean the difference between a successful, simple search and hours spent scrolling or thumbing through pages of information. Fortunately, there are several ways to find the right school for you, including online tools, apps, and good old-fashioned books. Here are a few top picks in each category.
Online college search tools
If you want simple, up-to-date information that’s easy to access, then College Navigator is for you. This online tool allows you to search for colleges using some basic filter options such as state, institution type, and program or degree to find the right college for you. Once you build a list of schools, you can create a side-by-side comparison.
The College Board is best known for the SAT, but the company also provides an online tool called Big Future that allows you to search for colleges, majors, and scholarship opportunities. It’s also packed with tips and guides designed to educate you on financial aid, college life, campus visits, careers, and much more.
If you’re hooked on reading Yelp reviews, then you’re going to enjoy digging into Niche. Known as the Yelp for researching colleges, Niche is an online tool that allows you to search for colleges using criteria such as best value, student life, dorms, ranking, and more. After building your list, Niche provides you with information about each school such as rankings, acceptance rate, test scores, and costs. But the best part about this site is each school that shows up on your list comes with reviews and a report card/overall grade.
While not as robust as some of the other sites, College Confidential offers a search tool that helps you find schools that fit your criteria. If you’re just starting the college search process, the simplicity of this site might be just what you need. Plus, this is one site you may want to bookmark for future use. The community forum is an excellent resource for college students to ask questions and get information on various topics related to college life.
The Princeton Review
The Princeton Review online offers a basic but thorough search tool to help you find your dream school. By utilizing the filter option, you can narrow your search based on state, major, tuition and fees, enrollment size, rankings, admission statistics, activities, institution type, sports, and campus setting.
We couldn’t leave ourselves off this list! With CollegeXpress’s College Search tool, you can browse schools by keyword, state, major, and more. There are also advanced options that allow you to search by school type, student body and campus size, sports, religion, and specialty schools. Over 800 lists and rankings offer another way to search on CX. These aren't your typical college rankings—they cover just about everything, from top Engineering programs to football powerhouses to activist campuses to colleges that allow pets. When you create a free CollegeXpress account, you can even request information from any of the featured colleges and universities directly. Just click the “Yes, Connect Me” button on a school’s profile to get recruited!
Related: College Search Do’s and Don’ts
College search apps
There’s an app for practically everything, including the college search process. While not as extensive as many online tools or print guides, there are a few apps that are worth checking out. Before you download and begin swiping, make sure there are recent updates. When we researched college search apps, several hadn’t been updated for two to three years. This could equal disaster in the ever-changing world of college admission. With that in mind, here are two college search apps to consider.
Skip the long lines at national college fairs and check out The College Fair app. This free mobile app allows you to search by major, location, and interests and even discover careers related to your strengths. You will have access to over 4,000 colleges in the United States that can be filtered by over 1,000 majors.
Imagine having the ability to quickly search over 4,000 colleges and universities all from your phone. The CiCompass app from College Interactive allows you to do that and so much more. To increase efficiency and maximize your time, you can personalize your search based on your profile, interests, and achievements. Once this is complete, colleges can connect with you via one-to-one messaging. Beyond the search feature, the app also comes with access to essay-writing tips, checklists, scholarship opportunities, prep courses, and more.
Related: 5 Free College Apps You Need to Try
College search books
If you like how a book feels in your hands, then this list is for you. While not an exhaustive list, these three guides are some of the top choices for school counselors, parents, and students.
Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020
Updated annually, the Fiske Guide to Colleges takes a look at what it’s like to be a student at some of the “best and most interesting” schools in the country. You can search using three college indexes categorized by state and country, tuition, and average debt.
The Best 385 Colleges, 2020 Edition
The Best 385 Colleges from The Princeton Review goes over everything you want to know about 385 of the best colleges in the United States. The schools are chosen then reviewed based on academics, administration, campus life, and financial aid. Plus, you’ll find information about rankings, admission tips, majors, price, and more.
The Complete Book of Colleges, 2020 Edition
The Complete Book of Colleges from The Princeton Review is packed full of information on 1,359 colleges and universities. Consider this your one-stop shop for everything related to the college search and admission process.
The College Finder, Fourth Edition
Another favorite at CollegeXpress, The College Finder by Dr. Steven Antonoff features over 600 lists of colleges and universities organized by categories such as academics, admission, student life, cost and financial aid, sports, study abroad, and more. Many of these lists are featured right here on CollegeXpress too!
Related: List: Great Books Colleges
We hope these resources help get you on track to make a great college list that fits all your needs—eventually leading you to find your best-fit school! The college search process can feel long and daunting, but you’re not the first to go through it and you won’t be the last, so take advantage of these resources that have been crafted with the help of experts and students that came before you.
Once you find a college, paying for it becomes another search. Find funding using our Scholarship Search tool!