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5 College Admissions Resources You Should Know About

I have a love-hate relationship with college rankings. I know that many families rely on them to guide a college list and sometimes an ultimate enrollment decision. I also know how arbitrary they are. When we learned last week that the University of Oklahoma had been removed from the U.S. News & World Report college rankings due to over-inflating their data for the past 20 years, I felt sick to my stomach because this isn't the first time colleges have lied to move up in the rankings.

But ever since the admissions scandal broke this spring, everything surrounding the college admissions process is heightened. Who can families turn to when they need help building a list of colleges or determining what is the best match for their child?

Here are five resources that I use on a regular basis and you should too:


This website was founded by one of the main characters in my favorite non-fiction college admissions book, The Gatekeepers, by Jacques Steinberg. The reason I love is that it is a source driven by student reviews on their experiences at their specific college. The commentary is genuine, candid, and raw at times. It addresses stereotypes of each college and the student body head on. This allows a family to confirm or contradict their own perception of the school.

2. Common Data Set

Each college is supposed to make the Common Data Set available to the public on their website. When I want to know detailed information about the college's admissions process, I scroll down to page 7 or 8 to the section, "First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admissions." While I have also found errors on this document, it tends to offer information that is hard to find in guide books like whether the college uses "demonstrated interest" (listed as "Level of Applicant's Interest" under "Basis for Selection") or the number of students waitlisted and admitted off the waitlist in a given year. For colleges that do not make the Common Data Set easily accessible or refuse to answer questions, I am much less trusting of their entire process and less likely to recommend the college to a student. 

3. Rugg's Recommendations

When I became a college counselor at a high school after years of working on the college side of the admissions process several years ago, I invested in Rugg's Recommendations. Fred Rugg is a mystical, real-life character whose guides came to the rescue in my early years as a college counselor when I had to know about every college out there versus just the one I used to work at. If you want to know the best colleges for late-bloomers, strongest pre-med programs, or colleges with "x," "y," or "z," these basic sheets are the best kept secret in the industry. Check them out now!

4. Naviance/SCOIR

Not all high schools have an online platform that students and parents can use to understand how students from their school fare at colleges around the country. But if your high school offers Naviance or SCOIR and it is updated with admissions scattergrams, it is a wealth of information. For example, you can look at the number of students (without names) who applied to your college choices. Decisions will show you each student's SAT/ACT scores and GPA to help you determine how competitive you would be for that college from your high school. Keep in mind that not only are names removed for privacy purposes, but the student's race, athletic, legacy, or other "tags" are also not listed. If you follow my blog and Facebook Live sessions, you know that these "tags" can influence admissions decisions. 

Need help navigating the college admissions process with your child?
Join Application Nation, a suite of private Facebook groups hosted by Sara Harberson.

5. College Visits

The best way to determine if a college is a good match is to visit. Nothing can replace being on campus and seeing the community for yourself. Instincts are highly valuable in determining whether a college should end up on the list or if a student should enroll. You can't pick a partner for life from a guidebook or dating site. The same thing holds true for your college choice. It's not just four years; it's a lifetime of friends, experiences, and connections that will influence us every day of our lives. So don't put the college visit off. It will help you more than anything else.

What I have learned in my career in college admissions is that the people and resources I trust are those that have no reason to lie or withhold information. Student reviews, the Common Data Set, and even Rugg's famous lists of colleges (which I love!), have their limits. In the end, the most powerful rankings are those created by the student after visiting each college on their list, weighing what is truly important to them, and choosing the place that will continue to give back to them for many years to come. While it is tempting to look at the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, Forbes' list, or Princeton Review's list, they are made for the masses. Your college choice should be made for you.