When I typed "college" into Google today, I got 631 million hits. When I searched for "scholarships" and "financial aid," I generated another 51 million and 58 million results.
Nobody has time to slog through all that and a lot of it is probably schlock anyway.
You can, however, dramatically cut down on the time you need to find great colleges at bargain prices if you spend time visiting what I consider to be the 10 best college websites.
In no particular order, here are my choices for the top 10 college websites:
1. College Navigator. The graphics aren't slick, but this federal website contains more data on the nation's colleges and universities than any place else on the Internet. Using the College Navigator's school search engine, you can scour the country for schools based on your criteria, which is handy if you aren't sure where to hunt for schools beyond the obvious name brands and your own state institutions.
2. College Results Online. Families assume that their children will graduate from college in four years, but that's sadly not true for most. This great website provides four, five, and six-year graduation rates of schools across the country. What I also like about College Results Online is that it breaks down graduation rates by gender and ethnicity.
3. Zinch and 4. Cappex. These websites are online matchmakers that have borrowed features from Facebook that should appeal to teenagers. On both sites, for instance, a student can create a profile that goes well beyond test scores and grade-point averages that they can share with schools. Using these sites is a great way to discover intriguing schools that you didn't know exist. Through Cappex, you can access Meritaid.com, which provides a valuable directory of scholarships that thousands of schools offer.
5. CollegeMajors101. Wondering what you can do with a degree in biology or dance? College Majors 101 offers lots of information about what you can do with dozens of majors, as well as what you can expect academically if you pursue these majors.
6. College Insight. College Insight, which is the brainchild of the Institute for College Access and Success, has gathered detailed information on thousands of colleges. You can find statistics for any school on such topics as college affordability, graduation rates, and college diversity, including the racial and ethnic breakdown of students and professors.
7. Project on Student Debt. This website is devoted to helping families make the best economic choices when tackling college costs. You will find tons of information about college debt and student loans. The site also has a list of schools that have pledged to limit or eliminate the use of student loans in their financial aid packages.
8. College Board. I am always turning to the College Board when I want to check some quick facts about a particular school. You can easily retrieve the academic profile of a college's freshman class, financial aid and merit aid stats, available majors, and much more.
9. Unigo. This site, which has teamed up with the Wall Street Journal, serves up the unvarnished scoop on schools from the students themselves. You won't find spin from admission offices here. Unigo urges college students to share their take on their own schools through comments, photos, and videos.
10. The Choice (New York Times). This college blog will keep you up to date on the latest trends on college admission, testing, and financial aid. The blog also features a lot of question-and-answer sessions with college admission officers and other higher ed experts.