How Can Students Start Learning About Colleges?

By Danny Ruderman


Here are the top four ways that I use with my personal students.

First, we’re going to start with a website, which you probably know and love (or know and hate) which is the College Board. These are the same people that make the SAT and AP tests, but one good thing that they do is have a search function where, if you click on colleges, you’ll see a bunch of preferences come up on the left side of the screen where you can select a variety of things, such as “Where you want your college to be located” and “How big you want it to be” and “What majors you might be interested in”…etc.  It will then sort a huge list of thousands of colleges down to match your preferences.

Now to be honest with you, you’re going to see a lot of schools that either you’re not interested in or you’ve never heard of, but it is a very initial way of you starting to play around with what’s out there that meets kind of what you’re looking for, even if you don’t fully know what that is yet?

Once you have some schools that you think that you might be interested in, or you’ve heard your friends talk about and you just want to start exploring, the next resource is called the Fiske Guide to the Colleges. This book has 320 or more college summaries, and each college has three or four pages stating what it’s like to go to school there. For instance, the guide will tell you what the students do on the weekends and what the best academic programs are.

Basically, the book it just gives you kind of an idea of what’s out there, and what I tend to have my own students do is I have them read it with a highlighter or a pen in hand. Basically, I have them highlight what they like, what they don’t like, and what they don’t understand, and the reason I have them do this is because after reading three schools or so, it’s all going to run together and sound the same. Therefore, if you ever want to reference back into the book, your notes will allow you to say “Oh yeah! I remember that I really liked the dorms at this college.” Additionally, when you start prepping for any interviews that you have or you have to write a ‘why do you want to go to our school essay,’ you can look back and remember, ‘Oh yeah they have this program,” or whatever it is that you found in the Fiske Guide.

Number three is a website called This is a student review website. If you log on and you type in a school, you’re going to see a bunch of questions that students have answered, and the best way is to scroll to the bottom of the page, which is the easiest way to get to the answers. For example, you’ll see 57 students have given their overall opinion about the school, or discuss what a school’s stereotype is, and whether that stereotype is true. If you spend 30 to 45 minutes reading about a college (which I know that most of you aren’t going to do), but even if you just poke around and look at what students have to say, it’s really honest look at a college, and you will learn a ton. You’re basically going to get real kind of insider dirt on what it’s like to go to school there.

So now that you have the Fiske Guide and But then what you should do is really jump into your schools’ individual websites. Now these can be a total pain because they’re all different, but what I suggest and what I make my own students do is look at the academic programs. Look at the extracurriculars, look at the study abroad options. Look at the research opportunities. I suggest you do this for three reasons.

You start understanding what’s out there. You might say for example, “Oh I didn’t even know that a human biology major was available?!’

You can compare one school to another. So you might say “Oh, I love this that this school’s photography program has eight classes that I can take, but this one only has two.” You would never have know this kind of information had you not started looking up different college programs.

Like I mentioned before, if you do have an interview or you do have to write a ‘why essay,’ (why do you want to go to our school), you’re going to be able to match your interests, which I talk about in many other videos, to specifically what this college has to offer. That’s really important because schools don’t want to feel like you’re just taking the same essay and recycling it for every school. They want real specific reasons, so if you prove that you’ve done your research, it helps you stand out.

By doing all of these things, you should start to become aware of what’s important to you and hopefully find schools that you love.

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