2023 Top College Admission Resources

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Where do we start? This is the question on the minds of students, their families, and other supporters who are just beginning the college search and application experience. There is certainly no shortage of noise about admission and it can lead to information overload and/or straight-out falsities.

As a new group of students enters into the admission cycle, I conducted an informal poll of my colleagues in high schools and colleges to crowdsource the most recommended resources. I collected the books, websites, blogs, and podcasts most often cited and culled the list to help focus your search. Again, this was an unscientific poll, but all great resources with which to start. (And no, I did not stuff the ballots in favor of my book/podcast.)

Read This:

Whether you are beginning your search, writing your essay, or wanting a broader perspective on the admission and financial aid landscape, here are the top ten books (listed alphabetically with descriptions from their publishers) to head you in the right direction. I added two extra credit readings for the overachievers among us.

“College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay” by Ethan Sawyer

“Writing a college admission essay doesn’t have to be stressful. College counselor Ethan Sawyer (aka The College Essay Guy) will show you that there are only four (really, four!) types of college admission essays.”

“The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation about Education, Parenting, and Race” by Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown

“Finding the right college is a challenge for all students. But Black families face additional challenges and questions while navigating the admissions process. In The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions, veteran admissions experts Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown share provocative insights and demystify this complex process to answer important questions from where to apply to how to get in.”

“The College Finder” by Steven R. Antonoff

“A unique resource for finding out about college majors, costs, athletics, religion, quality, and much more. Essentially a book of lists, this is the way to identify colleges where students will get in and fit in!”

“The Colleges that Change Lives” by Loren Pope

Colleges That Change Lives remains the definitive guide for high school students (and their parents) who are looking for more in their college education than football, frat parties, and giant lectures. Building on the foundation of landmark author Loren Pope, Oswald spent more than a year visiting 40 colleges, speaking with students, faculty, and alumni to create these vivid and concise portraits.”

“The Debt Trap: How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe” by Josh Mitchell

“As he charts the ‘jaw-dropping’ seventy-year history of student debt in America, Mitchell never loses sight of the countless student victims ensnared by an exploitative system that depends on their debt. Mitchell also draws alarming parallels to the housing crisis in the late 2000s, showing the catastrophic consequences student debt has had on families and the nation’s future. Mitchell’s character-driven narrative is “necessary reading” (The New York Times) for anyone wanting to understand the central economic issue of our day.”

“The Fiske Guide to Colleges” by Edward Fiske

“Fully updated and expanded every year, Fiske is the most authoritative source of information for college-bound students and their parents. Helpful, honest, and straightforward, the Fiske Guide to Colleges delivers an insider’s look at what it’s really like to be a student at the “best and most interesting” schools in the United States, plus Canada, Great Britain, and Ireland―so you can find the best fits for you.”

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“The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make” by Ron Leiber

“Sending a teenager to a flagship state university for four years of on-campus living costs more than $100,000 in many parts of the United States. Meanwhile, many families of freshmen attending selective private colleges will spend triple—over $300,000. With the same passion, smarts, and humor that infuse his personal finance column, Ron Lieber offers a much-needed roadmap to help families navigate this difficult and often confusing journey.”

“The Truth About College Admissions: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together” by Brennan Barnard & Rick Clark

“The Truth about College Admission is the easy-to-follow, comprehensive, go-to guide for families. The expert authors―with inside knowledge from both the high school and university sides of the experience―provide critical advice, thoughtful strategies, helpful direction, and invaluable reassurance during the long and often bewildering college admission journey.”

“Where you Go is Not Who’ll You Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” by Frank Bruni

“Over the last few decades, Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying and occasionally devastating process, preceded by test prep, tutors, all sorts of stratagems, all kinds of rankings, and a conviction among too many young people that their futures will be determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no. In Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, Frank Bruni explains why this mindset is wrong, giving students and their parents a new perspective on this brutal, deeply flawed competition and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes.”

“Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions” by Jeff Selingo

“Getting into a top-ranked college has never seemed more impossible, with acceptance rates at some elite universities dipping into the single digits. In Who Gets In and Why, journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels entrenched notions of how to compete and win at the admissions game and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” Hint: it’s not all about the sticker on the car window.”

Extra Credit:

“Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do about It” by Colin Diver

“Since U.S. News & World Report first published a college ranking in 1983, the rankings industry has become a self-appointed judge, declaring winners and losers among America’s colleges and universities. In this revealing account, Colin Diver shows how popular rankings have induced college applicants to focus solely on pedigree and prestige, while tempting educators to sacrifice academic integrity for short-term competitive advantage. By forcing colleges into standardized “best-college” hierarchies, he argues, rankings have threatened the institutional diversity, intellectual rigor, and social mobility that is the genius of American higher education.”

“The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us” (previously published as: The Years That Matter Most) by Paul Tough

“An indelible and explosive book on the glaring injustices of higher education, including unfair admissions tests, entrenched racial barriers, and crushing student debt. Now updated and expanded for the pandemic era. When higher education works the way it’s supposed to, there is no better tool for social mobility – for lifting young people out of challenging circumstances and into the middle class and beyond. In reality, though, American colleges and universities have become the ultimate tool of social immobility – a system that secures a comfortable future for the children of the wealthy while throwing roadblocks in the way of students from struggling families.”

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Browse This:

Google “college admission” and you will get millions of results. To save you time scrolling, the top ten most recommended are below with a few extra credit suggestions for good measure.

BigFuture

“BigFuture® is a free, comprehensive set of digital resources that helps all students take a productive first step after high school. With feedback from students, insights from professionals, and over 100 years of College Board expertise, the BigFuture personalized dashboard simplifies a complex process into key actions across three categories: Plan for College, Pay for College and Explore Careers.”

College Guidance Network (CGN)

“Our mission is to empower school counselors to better support their college and career-bound students—along with their families—to confidently navigate the college admissions process to make good, financially responsible decisions. Our goal is to provide all students and parents access to top experts and unbiased information to achieve the best possible outcomes and the greatest long-term success. We use virtual technology and high-quality audio-visual production to bring the best experts into the living room of every college-bound student. We give students and their families the tools they need to navigate the college selection and admissions process.”

College Navigator

“Our mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.”

College Scorecard

“The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard has the most reliable data on college costs, graduation, and post-college earnings.”

CollegeXpress

“CollegeXpress is a college search and planning website. We feature comprehensive College and Scholarship Search tools, tons of informational articles and advice, college lists and rankings, and one-click college recruitment.”

FairTest

“FairTest’s work to minimize the role of standardized tests as gatekeepers to higher education. Through research, media, presentations, and public awareness campaigns, we’ve led the test-optional movement that has led to a drastic reduction in reliance on standardized tests in admissions to universities and graduate schools.”

Federal Student Aid

“Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. At the office of Federal Student Aid, our more than 1,400 employees help make college education possible for more than 10 million students each year.”

Finaid

“Finaid was established in the fall of 1994 as a public service. This award-winning site has grown into the most comprehensive source of student financial aid information, advice, and tools — on or off the web”

Degree Choices

“Degree Choices is a team of education researchers working together to provide valuable financial advice and guide prospective students to find schools and careers that best suit their needs.”

MyinTuition

“MyinTuition is a tool that, in only three minutes, provides a personalized estimate of what it would cost an individual to attend college.”

Extra Credit:

College Greenlight

“College Greenlight is the leading advocacy network dedicated to supporting first-generation, lower-income, and historically underrepresented students on their path to higher education. Launched in 2012, College Greenlight helps thousands of qualified, motivated students connect with colleges and universities to find their best college fit and financial support.”

Get Schooled

“Get Schooled is a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people get to college, find first jobs, and succeed in both.”

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Scoir

“Scoir expands college access and improves student outcomes by connecting students, supporters, high schools, and colleges for a better admissions experience.”

Follow This:

There are many great blogs about college admission, ranging from basic advice for admission newbies to the wonky “inside baseball” college admission sites offering nuanced insight for the experienced professional. You can often find college-specific blogs that have posts about admission statistics, policies, and information on college programs or offerings. From MIT, Tufts, and Yale to the University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, and many more, you can learn more about campus life, their admission process, and advice for applying. The following three blogs provide were the most recommended by colleagues for those wanting a more comprehensive perspective on admission:

Georgia Tech Admission Blog

Higher Ed Data Stories

Tulane University Admission Blog

Listen to This:

Not one for reading? There are also some engaging podcasts for your commute to school or work.

College Admission Decoded

“College Admissions Decoded is produced by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Every episode features insiders from the world of admissions breaking down the facts, myths, and rules of engagement for today’s college landscape.”

College Admission Insider

“On each episode of College Admissions Insider, we talk to real college admissions counselors and other professionals to bring you expert advice for your college journey — from the initial search through enrollment and beyond. Learn how to find the right college fit, build a list of finalists, create an application that gets noticed, and much more. This podcast is an initiative of Bucknell University but is designed for students applying to any school.”

Inside Admission

“Inside Admission features professionals – admission deans and directors, school counselors, authors, researchers, and others – in and around college admission telling their personal college search stories and offering a behind-the-scenes look at their world with a goal of reducing stress and increasing transparency for students navigating this process and the parents and counselors supporting them.”

The Admission Beat

“On the Admissions Beat, veteran dean of admissions Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College provides high school juniors, seniors, and parents, as well as their counselors and other mentors, with “news you can use” at each step on the pathway to college. With a welcoming, reassuring perspective and an approach intended to build confidence in prospective applicants, Dean Coffin offers credible information, insights, and guidance — from the earliest days of the college search, to applications, decision-making, and arrival on campus. He does so by drawing on nearly 30 years of experience as an admissions leader at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions.”

The Truth about College Admission

“The college admission experience can be overwhelming and complicated. This podcast helps students and the adults who support them cut through the noise around searching for, applying to, and deciding on a college. In each episode, you can expect guests who are national experts working in the field of college admission and enrollment who will give you honest takes, helpful perspective, and in many cases some much-needed levity and solace.”

Your College-Bound Kid

“Learn key strategies and hear true stories on topics ranging from building the right college list, getting admitted to the colleges on your list; how to pay for college, and even choosing the right career.”

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