Learning about colleges, minus the visit

What are some ways to learn about schools if you don’t have the chance to visit?

Answer: While most students and their families are familiar with the popular guides such as The Fiske Guide for Colleges and Princeton Reviews Best of the 373 Colleges to name a few, many students and parents are unaware of the material that is available on the web. While I also advise students to research colleges online and send away for material from the specific colleges themselves, I also now advising students to familiarize themselves with some of the newer web sites that host student reviews and campus videos.

I decided to personally view some of these Web sites, while narrowing my search to one college. I chose Dartmouth since I was familiar with this school and wanted to compare my daughter’s experience with that written by other students.

I started with, which ranked Dartmouth as being 9.6 out of 10. Since this was based on a sample size of one, I quickly moved down my list.

I then tried where I found 40 reviewers who ranked it an 8 out of 10. Like all rankings, I saw this as an opportunity to ask questions, rather than take this number on face value. I particularly enjoyed viewing the photos, which gave an excellent overview of the campus. Perhaps the best bit of information I gleaned was the information about housing and the issues facing the campus although others might find the concise section on statistics worthwhile as well. The admission data appeared to be based on stats from the class of 2014 so it was not as current as I would have liked.

After trying multiple other sites that I did not find worth my time, I decided that CollegeProwler was another site worth visiting. Many students are familiar with the individual college specific paperbacks available, but few know that most of that material is available for free on their Web site. In this case, Dartmouth was ranked using a report card where I was pleased to learn that the academics were felt to be an A, while the drug safety scored a D+. In fact this was the same area that was targeting in Unigo, bringing down its score. Truthfully, as a parent, I am unaware of the drug scene, but will certainly ask more questions from this exercise. I think the free campus tour video was well done and allowed me to feel as if I were right back on the green. More importantly there were pages of reviews by students so I could get multiple points of view.

These sites, unlike others you may find were all free and did not require me to give out my name, demographic data or my email. Be forewarned-you can easily while way the hours on these sites as I just did.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an Independent College Consulting Practice. ( She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at 232-5626 or through her Web site.


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