In today’s world, the first thing we do when we hear about something that interests us is hopping on the internet and look it up. This is no different when you are starting your college search. Before you start your college visits or have a full understanding of what you are looking for in a college, you tend to hop online and starting visiting their websites. Most students begin to visit sites of colleges they have heard of before simply so they can start to look around.
The issue is, if you dive into a college website without a plan, it can get very overwhelming very quickly. As you learn, colleges have a lot of moving parts. Furthermore, their official website is tasked with relay a high volume of information to a variety of audiences. Students, graduates, alumni, professors, job seekers, and the media are just some of the various groups that use this website to gather information about the institution.
Over time, if you choose to consider and apply to the school seriously, you will understand which parts of the site are most valuable at different times. However, for those who want to conduct primary research, I have listed three things to looks for and review when visiting a college site for the first time. As I mentioned, as you move forward, you will need to review additional sections more carefully. For now, to avoid being overwhelmed, you can stick to these three parts.
When you enter the site, you will most likely be greeted with a lengthy menu of options. Start by clicking on Admissions. This is where you will need to start if you are giving any thought to attending this school. If you don’t get in, then the other stuff doesn’t matter. Once you land on the admissions page, click around to find the “undergraduate programs” section. This may be in the form of a new page or a downloadable catalog.
Take a few minutes to review the various courses that are offered. This will allow you to learn what the school focuses on. That college with the billboards on the highway may not offer you anything you are interested in. On the flipside, by reading the descriptions of the different courses, you may discover something new. You do not need to make any decisions at this time, but it is helpful to begin to understand what this and other colleges have to offer.
Before leaving the admissions section, find a link to request more information. This usually is a simple form that allows you to exchange your e-mail for a PDF brochure about the school. It also shares your information with an admissions counselor who can reach out and answer questions. Again, you are not committing to anything, but it may be helpful to speak to someone about the information you just learned about the school.
Student Life / Campus Life
These two sections may be combined into one page or separated into two different parts. The purpose of both sections is to show prospective students, like yourself, what life is like on the campus of that school. They will show pictures of past events and provide information on the various clubs, sports, and future events open to the student body. This is a great way to learn more about the non-academic side of the school. If the site boasts photo albums of happy students and a long list of events, then it’s clear that they prioritize the happiness of there students.
This is also where you can look for activities you might be interested in joining. They may offer an organized club centered around a hobby you have always wanted to take up. Joining one of these clubs or groups could be an ideal way to make friends right away. These are the little things that are worth noting because they might convince you to choose this school over similar ones on your list.
When diving into content that speaks about campus life, dig around to gain a better understanding of what the campus is like. How big or small is it in size? Are all dorms and class buildings located within walking distance of each other? One of the things I work with my college-bound coaching clients on is determining what type of environment they need to succeed at school. Will they thrive on a large campus, or should they be sticking to smaller schools to ensure they are comfortable and able to focus on their academics. Beginning to understand the makeup of the different campuses will be valuable when comparing these schools int the coming months.
The last section to visit before getting to overwhelmed with the alumni section. This may seem odd since you are not even a student yet. The alumni section is not terribly overwhelming. It also does not force you to make choices about what information to read about. It is a section devoted to students who have graduated from that school and the successes they have enjoyed.
Every school will boast an alumni network that includes former grads that are now in the workforce. Research this network to understand how many grads are in it, where they are located, and how active they are. If a school boasts active alumni, it means typically those grads enjoyed their time in the school enough to actively give back. This is yet another insight into what life might be like as a student at that school.
The alumni network can also have an impact on your career after graduation. When you graduate, you are among thousands of grads who, on paper, look identical. You all come from similar schools with the same degrees and grades. When it comes to getting that first job, being able to connect with a hiring manager that went to the same school as you could be invaluable. Being able to call on alumni to help grads get jobs is a huge selling point for any school. Now, you will need to continue to do extensive research as you move forward to ensure this network is as valuable as they claim. If it is, then it could be the driving force behind your final selection.
As you move through this process and determine major and other things you are looking for in a school, you will return to the site and take advantage of the additional information it has to offer. For those just starting, it is essential to have a basic plan when visiting a website with such a high volume of information. The three sections above will allow you to get comfortable in navigating college sites. It will also let you to get familiar with what college is all about and what it has to offer you and your future.
Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.