In The FastLane – Tech Tools to Help You With Your College Journey
Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to find information on colleges. New tech tools help you do everything: compare colleges, virtually visit colleges, get money to pay for college and study for entrance exams. With the admissions superhighway moving so fast, we don’t want you to get left behind. We asked admissions officers at colleges nationwide which tech tools you should check out during your college search.
University Mobile Apps
Many universities have mobile apps. To find a school’s app, search for the university’s name in your device’s app store. The app almost always has a campus map, photos, information about student life and an event calendar.
“[Our mobile app] is targeted more for the current student cohort living on campus, but it does contain some helpful information for prospective students who might be visiting the campus outside of our normal weekday tour schedule,” says Mark Garrison, senior associate director of admissions operations and technology at Coastal Carolina University (SC).
After creating a profile with your course grades and activities at www.raise.me, you can earn scholarships for your achievements. For example, several colleges may offer you $1,000 for every A you earn, which can be used if you attend their school. The earlier in high school you begin completing tasks, the broader you can cast your net of potential colleges willing to give you a scholarship and the more scholarship money you can earn.
This site is becoming popular for virtual campus visits. For example, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) uses www.youvisit.com so that students who can’t visit in person can still explore the campus. On the 360-degree tour, a virtual tour guide takes you through campus while providing information about what you’re seeing. If you have a virtual reality headset, you can view the virtual reality tour. To search for schools, visit go to www.youvisit.com/education.
Want to go to a college fair, but don’t have time to attend in person? You can frequent college fairs online throughout the year at www.collegeweeklive.com. Learn about colleges, live chat with admission counselors, watch presentations with advice about college admissions and search for scholarships.
Colleges are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media sites, allowing you to interact with them instantly. Following a university’s social media accounts can help you demonstrate your interest in the schools and can personalize your interactions with each of them.
“Our ability to integrate social media tools, such as Snapchat, during [a campus visit for an open house] allows students to not only become comfortable with our campus, but also connect with other students going through the same experience,” says Steven Lambert, director of undergraduate admissions at Georgian Court University (NJ).
Remember, though, that what you post on social media does matter. “A student should not forget that public posts may reach someone deciding their future at a college,” Lambert advises.
IRS Data Retrieval Tool
During your senior year of high school, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ to receive federal financial aid. If your parents file their taxes before you apply for financial aid, you can use this nifty tool to easily import that info. “Families can avoid extra legwork when it comes to financial aid if they do it with official information coming from the IRS via this tool,” Lambert says.
This free app (Android, iOS) helps you explore colleges and keep a list of your favorite schools. Search by major, career, school and other options. If you set up a profile with your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, gender, and more, the app will tell you your odds of getting admitted to your top-pick colleges—and ways to improve your chances of admission. The app also provides info on scholarships you might be eligible to receive and an admissions FAQs section.
The Common App
Want to streamline your application process? The website www.commonapp.org keeps all of your application information in one place and allows you to fill out a common application for admission to any of the 600 participating colleges and universities. Although each college will have college-specific questions you’ll need to answer in order to apply, you’ll only need to fill out the information that all applications require (such as your name, address, high school grades and courses, entrance exam scores, etc.) one time. The site also provides worksheets to track the requirements you need to fulfill for each college.
Naviance Student App
This free app for iPhone and iPod touch lets you research up to 4,200 colleges; save a list of your favorites; communicate with counselors or colleges; map locations of colleges you want to visit; and create to-do lists so you don’t miss deadlines to sign up for the SAT or ACT or send required info to a college.
ACT Online Prep App
ACT has its own test preparation app, too. The app (Android, iOS) is free, but to use it, you must be an ACT Online Prep customer, which costs $39.95. The app offers a short-form ACT test you can take to predict your test score, adjusts your preparation schedule based on your timeline for taking the test and provides games to help you review for the ACT.
Daily Practice for the New SAT App
This free app (Android, iOS) helps you study for the exam, which has a new format. It provides a question each day, along with the answer, among other helpful test-prep features. “We don’t typically recommend one particular app over another, but we have mentioned the SAT Question of the Day to prospective students who inquire about how they should prepare for taking the SAT,” Garrison says.
University TV Online
“The UNCW Office of Scholarships & Financial Aid relies on www.financial aidtv.com as a way to share the basics on financial aid,” says Lauren Scott, UNCW’s associate director of admissions. This tool allows universities to create online videos about their financial aid and scholarship processes. UNCW’s videos are on its website at www.uncw.edu/finaid/basics.html and address topics such as how to apply for financial aid, when to apply for aid and when to fill out the FAFSA.
Other schools, such as Coastal Carolina, have videos on sites such as www.youniversitytv.com.
Live Online Admission Counselor Chats
Many colleges offer the chance to chat online with an admission counselor. “The UNCW admissions and financial aid offices both utilize Live Counselor Chat as a way to effectively communicate with students and parents with quick questions that might not warrant an email or phone call,” Scott says.
Instead of reading information on college websites, you can go to www.soundcloud.com and listen to audio tracks on various admissions topics. “If prospective students or parents are nervous about calling with questions, or are just researching a university after hours, our SoundCloud playlists are easily accessible,” Scott says.
Parchment.com makes it easy to request and send high school transcripts to colleges and find colleges that might be a good match for you. More than 3,400 high schools and 2,600 colleges have partnered with Parchment to provide the transcript service. After searching for colleges and creating a list of favorites, you can provide information such as your GPA, which is run through the Parchment Admission Simulator, to determine your chances of getting in.
Elevate (Android, iOS) is a cognitive training app designed to help you improve your communication and analytical skills. “After testing it out [earlier this year], our staff has begun to share this tool with prospective students as a way to focus on skills they might like to build capacity,” Scott says.
Although these new tools can help guide you down the road to college admissions success, UNCW’s Scott cautions you to use technology responsibly during your college search (double check the information you enter is correct!) and read the fine print so that you use free resources first.
And remember, old-school email communication is very important during the college search and admissions process. “Be sure you are checking your email regularly so you are privy to special events, admissions advice or any other key university news,” Scott says.
Dana McCullough is a writer and editor based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.