Simple suggestions and great Web sites for college planning this summer

8 years ago

Summer is the perfect time for low-key college planning. Sure, hard-working high school students deserve down time to enjoy the summer. Ditto for their hard-working parents.

But setting aside time for exploring college options without the pressure of homework, tests and term papers is a smart use of your time.

Here are five simple suggestions and some great Web sites to help you get a jump on the college search.

1. Sign up for SAT Question of the Day through the College Board. This is a fun way to prepare for the SAT. Find “The Official SAT Question of the Day” and click on the RSS button to have a question sent to you every day.

2. Explore college-planning resources on the Internet. I’ve spent hours scouring Web sites. I’m here to tell you I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly; I’m only sharing the good ones with you.

Students and parents will find a ton of useful information on, including planning guides for sophomores, juniors and seniors, financial aid, scholarship searches and college searches. and are also top-notch and loaded with information., which includes videos and reviews of colleges by students attending the schools, is another useful resource. Articles on the site are great; two that I really like are “Finding the Perfect Fit: A college sizing guide” and “What I wish I’d Known about Applying to College.”

If you are interested in a California school, be sure to visit It has a wealth of information about public and private colleges in the Golden State. is hands down the best site for scholarship information. Some of the other sites I’ve included above also have scholarship sections.

To learn about financial aid and student loans, Student Aid on the Web and, which calls itself the SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid, are great places to start.

Be sure to factor in your GPA and any SAT or ACT test results as you narrow your choices. If you have certain schools in mind, spend time looking over their Web Sites.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator has great information about graduation rates, freshman student retention rates, admittance rates and financial aid awards for colleges. Simply type in the name of a school near the top of the page in the section aptly labeled Name of School.

For pure enjoyment, you might want to take a look at U.S. News & World Reports annual college rankings. Bear in mind that this extensive listings has its detractors.

(I tried the college personality quiz and was less than impressed. The questions are thought provoking, but the results were way too general.)

Kiplinger magazine’s list of Top 100 public colleges is also worth a look. The financial magazine bases its rankings on a combination of outstanding academic quality and an affordable price tag.

You can also download a free copy of Such A Smart Mom’s Smart Moves: On the Road to College. The guide has practical, grade-by-grade advice on college planning.

3. Visit a few campuses. Summer vacation is a great time to visit a few schools. Granted, most students have headed home for the summer, but you can still get a feel for the campus. Check the school’s Web site for information on organized tours.

Not sure what you should be looking for in a campus? The ACT college entrance exam site offers some good questions to ask on a college visit. Unigo also has a nice article: “Getting the most out of campus tours, college fairs and info sessions”

4. Get familiar with admissions applications and brainstorm essay ideas. If you will be a senior in the fall and know which schools you want to apply to, get on their Web sites and look for applications. An online version or a hard copy that you can download might be available. (They may be last year’s applications, but they will give you an idea of what to expect.) Another great online resources is The Common Application, which is used by almost 350 colleges.

Summer is also an opportune time to start thinking about college essays. The College Board site has some good information to get your started. The Common Application has essay topics listed.

5. Volunteer. The school year is loaded with academics and extracurriculars, so summer is a great time to volunteer. Find a volunteer opportunity that interests you, not just something you think will impress colleges. Use your heart and your head.

Not sure where to start? If you’re in California, is a great place to start. The United Way allows you to plug in your zip code and get volunteer information in your area.


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