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Lost in Cyberspace

Finding a college online

This article was originally published on June 16, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

For most incoming high school seniors, this is their final summer of freedom. The last thing they may want to think about is school.

But those who plan to go to college – and that's a large majority in this country – ought to be figuring out which colleges they want to apply to come fall. Heck, as competitive as it is out there, even incoming juniors might want to start exploring their options.

A quick and easy way to start the process of figuring out which college is right for you is to visit the Internet sites of likely schools.

It may not seem fair, but I believe it is a useful gauge to judge a college or university by its Web site. A professional, polished and informative Web site is simply more likely to reflect similar qualities in an overall institution. Yes, there are good schools with poor Web sites and bad schools with stellar Web site, but those have been the exceptions among those I've visited.

One of the most comprehensive lists of American colleges and universities is on Yahoo. Yahoo had 1,420 schools on its list the day we stopped by, arranged alphabetically or by state (although you have to choose separate public or private state lists). There were also sublists broken out by single-gender schools, historically black colleges and other college indexes. Larger universities with multiple Web servers or even just many main section heads will have their own sublists on the Yahoo site – alumni groups, athletic departments, campus libraries are examples of multiple entries for a single school.

But a plain old list isn't very useful to the student who is unsure of where they want to go to school. College Edge offers an online college search engine – you answer a series of questions (which state or states do you prefer, public or private, size of college, size of surrounding community, major, etc.) and it gives you a series of colleges meeting your criteria. Plus College Edge has detailed information on most of the schools in its database, which is nearly as large – maybe even larger – as Yahoo's: admissions requirements, facilities, transfer policies, tuition. Just about any bit of info you'd find in a college handbook you can find here, plus you can jump over to the schools' own Web sites.

An even better engine for helping you choose a college is the Princeton Review Go To College guide. This site has tons of info on how students can go about determining what factors are important to them, and then how to rate those factors. Once you've done that, you can then customize the college search engine to help you find likely schools.

Once you've narrowed your list of potential schools down, it's time for a virtual tour of campus. Many colleges offer their own online tour with photos, maps and the whole bit – and maintains links directly to those tours. also links directly to the colleges' own main Web page, but the list isn't as comprehensive as Yahoo's. And there are also links to campus maps where available, and to campus "Web cams" – now there's a thrill.

All right – you've got a school. Now how to pay for your tuition? Check out FinAid. They've got links to search engines to help you in finding grants, scholarships and low-interest loans; warnings on student-aid scams; tips to help you calculate how much money you'll need to graduate and other useful bits of information.

If you still haven't found the info you need to help you get your college career in order, you can find other sites oriented towards college life at Lycos' college site.