From College Guides to College Guide Apps: A Review

When I think back to the onset of my college search process I remember feeling one thing, overwhelmed.  There are thousands of institutions of high education in the U.S. and many different ways to define them.  The categories include combinations of big, small, public, private, urban, rural, religiously affiliated, etc.  With all of these choices, and the fact that I was my parents’ first child to go through the process, it makes sense that I barely knew where to begin.  The whole search began my junior year of high school in 2008, a time when different social media platforms were on the rise, but not dominating every facet of my world.  So I did what everyone else before me had done, bought out the college search section of my local bookstore.  I spend hours highlighting and book-marking The Princeton Review, Colleges That Change Lives, and The Fiske Guide to Colleges.  From there I crafted a list and visited schools until I ultimately applied and was accepted to Boston College.  Definitely a happy ending, but not without its many struggles, and meltdowns, along the way.

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Now my little sister, Annie, is beginning the same process as a high school junior and she is also feeling bouts of anxiety about the whole ordeal.  The difference between Annie and me, however, is that she is partaking on this journey in a time dominated by social media use.  During my junior year Facebook was still being explored, iPhones weren’t invented, and the word App didn’t mean much to me.  Today, Annie, as well as the thousands of other high school students who flood my office, are hyper-aware of all things social.

So it only makes sense that a shift has occurred in how today’s teenagers access information about the college search process.  No longer is a book the only sufficient source.  Teens want fast access to facts and figures and easy comparisons between schools.  That is where apps come in.  Being able to download everything you need to know about a school in an organized manner allows high school students to skip the hassle of highlighting in a book.  An iPhone app is also much more convenient than lugging a huge college guide around on campus tours.  Scrolling through phones and making quick comparisons between colleges in real time is efficient and can help minimize stress for applicants.  To demonstrate just how helpful these apps are I did some research and have reviewed below a few different options that received solid praise from users.

  1. College Plan

With an overall satisfaction rating of almost 100% this may be the best college search app in the game.  Though it’s a bit pricy at $4.99, College Plan contains basically everything necessary for applicant success.  The app consists of five unique and helpful modules: College Ranking, Preparing for College Calendar, Scholarships, College Visit Questions, and Helpful Links.  I found the first two modules in the list the most impressive.  The college ranking piece allows prospective students the opportunity to create a personalized list of their best options based on personal preferences and then calculates a rating for each.  The other genius module is the calendar that keeps applicants and their parents on task during the process.  It allows them to set reminders for submission deadlines, standardized test dates, etc.  By digitally planning out month by month students and parents can feel more relaxed knowing they will not miss anything important.  All in all this is definitely the most comprehensive app I could find and a very helpful tool to keep high school students organized during the search and application process!

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  1. Quad2Quad

Whether engaging on college apps or not, ultimately the best way to pick a college is by visiting the campus. That’s where Quad2Quad comes in handy.  This free app helps in the itinerary-making process.  While not every school across the country is included in the app, Quad2Quad helps plan which schools to visit based on characteristics like region and size.  The app suggests where else to visit when a school has been selected and provides key info about parking, interviewing, and admission office hours and schedules.  What I found brilliant was that it also provides space to record notes about each campus visit.  After seeing a whole bunch the specifics of each college tend to blend together.  This way, directly after the tour and info session, prospective students can jot down first impressions or pros and cons that can be revisited as they decide where to apply.  Quad2Quad scored almost 90% for satisfaction, but could work on adding information on a wider variety of colleges.

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  1. College FAFSA Finder

A college education is a hefty investment and the nuances of applying for financial aid are often tricky.  That’s where College FAFSA Finder comes to the rescue.  This app allows high school students to browse information on thousands of schools and provides easy access to important admissions contact info for each.  Having it all available in one location saves time and energy when students need to know about specific financial aid policies and where to send their aid forms.  Each school’s cost of attendance is also listed for quick comparison research.  The best part is that app lists each schools FAFSA and CSS Profile codes, needed when filling out financial aid applications.  These forms are confusing and cumbersome so having every code and contact in one app makes students’, and especially their parents’, lives a little less stressful.  The other two apps are better for comparisons on school resources, offerings, and aesthetics, but this is the one you want when monetary factors are being considered.

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  1. Jane, I love this post! My sister is the same age as Annie and I can’t wait to show her this when I go home for Easter break. I was still stuck in the book phase when I applied for schools (I’m the oldest as well) because neither my family nor I considered going social. I’ll make sure she knows about her different options as I want her to have an even better college-search experience than I did. I wonder if there will be an app that will consolidate different university/college social media accounts as part of their features. We’ve discussed how social is allowing schools to disperse their personalities and values to potential students and these apps seem interested in getting info and comparisons going for high school students; why not include both? Thanks for sharing your research!

  2. Wow, what a great collection of apps. I hadn’t really considered how different the college application process was now that all these tools are available. Thanks for educating me!

  3. meganvtom · ·

    Great post! I liked reading about the different apps and ways each help the college application process. When I was applying, my high school’s college counseling office doled out thousands of dollars for each student to have a Naviance account, which keeps track of essentially the same components as College Plan. I wonder how these social media based applications will change the admissions process in the future, especially considering the amount it has changed in just the last 4 years. I feel like the trend will be towards lower cost and the apps will continue to utilize more and more data. Maybe even the colleges will be able to utilize this information.

  4. Wow, I didn’t realize how many different apps there are for college admission! I feel like this is just the beginning as different schools can create their own apps. I have heard of schools that have had app guided tours so people can visit at their leisure. I talked to my younger brother after I read this post (he’s a current senior) and he said he personally explored these apps but his school is still old fashioned in the college process. I feel like college plan would have been more useful as I just used a excel spreadsheet to coordinate visits and school information.

  5. I honestly never thought of this segment before – great post! You clearly did great research. I’ve thought about this segment on websites – but not at all in apps. There seems to be some great apps out there but it also seems like a great segment to be in because even just visually, the apps look like they could easily be beat out by some competitors with more money. I think one of the most valuable apps is the FASFA finder in terms of something that is less easy online. Its really funny that this segment has so little great apps but at the same time is something that everyone goes through. It still amazes me that there is not one platform that every single college is on. Even common app doesn’t have all of the colleges. It is such a hard market to break in to and there are so many colleges – I think its a huge fish to fry. But, so far, people seem to be doing best that they can. I’ll be curious where this is at in a few years.

  6. This is awesome! Like others said, I had no idea that all of these apps existed. I remember during my college search process I analyzed every college website that I had even the slightest interest in. While it was helpful, these apps would have been much easier to use. The College Plan app reminds me a lot of the website “College Prowler”, which was also a major player in my search a few years back. Having a system to organize your own interests for various schools is hugely helpful when there are so many factors to be considered.

  7. Great post Jane! Like Megan, my high school spent thousands of dollars on a Naviance system to help students see where they might get into school based on our test scores and GPA compared to alumni at our school. Unfortunately we were one of the first classes to roll out the program, so its usefulness was not very high for schools students had not really applied to. Did you find any app in your research that sought to replicate the college tour experience? The best way to get to know a college and find out if you are a good fit is to tour the college and interact with active students. I haven’t been able to find one, but I have always had ideas about starting one up myself because of the lack of an influential app!

  8. Thanks for sharing, Jane. It is amazing how much technology has changed the college search process in the last few years. One piece of software the students that I work with use a lot is Naviance. Do you know if they have an app?

    When I was applying to college, I also looked through books and the occasional web search. I wonder if access to more information is helping or hurting colleges and their efforts to recruit students. This could potentially lead to more students depending on bogus rankings or unreliable information.

    I also like your point Rose. An app that aggregates the social media content from multiple colleges could be the next trend. Then students are receiving more up to date and instant information about the colleges that they may be interested in.

  9. Nice post Jane. It’s great to see these apps crop up as there are so many crucial moving parts in applying to college as well as so much information, it’s exciting that these apps can help cut through the clutter and keep college searchers focused. I especially liked learning how College Plan can help a parent and their son or daughter set reminders for submission deadlines and other important dates. I’m interested in learning about where these apps get their funding and if it’s possible for stand alone colleges to gain greater influence in any way.

  10. Before reading this post, I knew social media was starting to play a much larger role in the college application process, but I never considered that students would use phone apps to help with their search. I knew that colleges and universities have put much more time and effort into their social media platforms to attract students, but I did not know that high school juniors and seniors were starting to replace the classic college books with these types of apps. I find this transition similar to the way that many college students have stopped buying textbooks for their classes in exchange for cheaper online manuals. These manuals provide the most important information in a more efficient manner and also offer additional resources that a print copy cannot provide. I know some of them also allow for student discussion forums, so I wonder if these apps listed above have that social collaborative piece as well in which prospective college students can engage with each other and share their experiences.

  11. Really cool reading about all these apps! I remember my college application process was pretty much a mess, despite the help I received from my school’s college counselors. Like you, I was overwhelmed with the process and when I get overwhelmed with things, I tend to ignore them and try to forget they exist. Naturally, this is not the best approach to applying to colleges and I did everything very last minute and was panicky about the entire ordeal. The apps are not only useful, but are much more fun to use than reading an enormous book about colleges that only makes the process even more overwhelming. I would definitely advise kids in the college application process to take advantage of these and hopefully it can help find their perfect school

  12. So cool! While I did not use any of these apps in my application process, I did frequently use websites like College Confidential and Naviance. These apps are actually really cool ways of managing everything and better informing people about the college process. Making them into mobile phone apps was (understandably) genius in that it brought students to a place that they always are (online) but for a different purpose (college app info). I wonder how the common app will fare through all of this

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