College students and graduates are familiar with the traditional admissions process. Whether students in past years traveled hundreds of miles to explore a campus for the first time, or scheduled office hours with a college admissions counselor, the route to choosing a college oftentimes involved a lot of frustration and legwork.
Today, with technology permeating nearly every aspect of life, students and families are finding ways to stay more organized and productive throughout the process. Tools of the past, such as the three-ring binder and the notebook, are giving way to apps and mobile devices that allow students to research a school, visit a campus, and meet with admissions counselors—all while never stepping foot on school grounds.
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As technology advances, digital tools have become more prevalent in making this life-altering process more manageable. Here are just a few of those tools available to students and parents:
1. Net price calculator: Beginning Oct. 29, each higher education institution in the United States is required to post a net price calculator on its respective college website, but many schools, such as Amherst College and Purdue University, have already posted their own calculators. These calculators will allow students and their families to determine estimated net price information—which is the college sticker price minus discounts and grant aid—based on each student's individual circumstance.
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According to Bill Wells, director of financial aid at Wake Forest University, these tools will provide some clarity for families questioning their ability to afford a particular school. "Before the requirement, we had links [on our school's website] to various expected family contribution estimators," Wells says. "But what those tools did not do was actually link the calculation to the specific criteria that each particular school uses in measuring the family's ability to pay."
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org, though, cautions families to take into account the accuracy of the tool. "I would characterize it more as telling you whether or not the college is in the right ballpark, [but] these calculators could be off by thousands of dollars."
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2. U.S. News My Fit: Experts advise students looking for their best college fit to visit schools in person to get a real feel of the environment. But, with myriad college options, students may feel overwhelmed narrowing their choices. Acknowledging these frustrations, U.S.News & World Report has developed a tool that allows students to find colleges that fit their specifications.
Using data points such as intended major, undergraduate enrollment, and Greek life preferences, students can narrow their options based on the size, makeup, and academic offerings of a particular school. Students can also enter their high school GPA and standardized test scores to determine how they compare academically to current students of the school, based upon data provided by the colleges and universities in a 2010 survey by U.S. News.
After entering his or her data, a user can browse college profile pages among the Best Colleges section to see whether a certain school is likely to be a good fit. In order to access the My Fit tool, a user must have access to the U.S. News College Compass.