"For a lot of first generation kids, it can be really confusing," Stieffel says. "They don't have parents [with experience] to guide them, and the counselor-to-student ratio might be 400:1. A lot of students end up getting lost in the mix."
Still, schools are making it easier for students to access information by adding social media to the mix. The number of colleges that promote their social networking arms on admissions websites jumped 52 percent in two years, the NACAC study found. Now, 91 percent of schools choose to promote their social networking sites; in 2008, just 39 percent did.
[See how colleges are getting creative on Facebook.]
Offering more in-depth information may help facilitate the application route that counselors often recommend: early research and a whittled down list of potential schools before submitting applications.
"A student has to sit down and be really honest with himself or herself about what they really want out of a school before they can even start to narrow down their list," Stieffel says. "Once they've identified those things that mean more to them, they can identify maybe five to 10 schools that might meet that criteria they've set up."
[Learn why ranking your college criteria can help you pick the right school for you.]
Though applying to a dozen schools worked for her, Bell warns that it's not a good idea to "apply just to apply" if thoughtful evaluation hasn't taken place first.
"Definitely do your research early," Bell recommends. "This is your future—spend some time doing it."
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