How to Choose a College Search Website

Published by Wendy Nelson on


How to Choose a College Search Website – Newly Updated 12-31-16

If you are just starting the college search process with your child, it may be helpful to find a good college search website to create a list of potential colleges.  There are many different websites that offer a college search function, so how do you determine the right one to use?

I have created a spreadsheet of different search criteria and compared the offerings of 14 different college search websites.  Download my free spreadsheet:  College Search Engines

You should pick a college search website that allows you to search on criteria that is of interest to you and your child.  For example:

  • Do you want to search by the % of freshmen receiving merit aid?  Only College Data uses this in the search.
  • Do you want to specify an acceptable graduation rate percentage?  College Data, CollegeRealityCheck and College View all allow this.
  • Do you want to only see schools that allow freshmen to have cars on campus?  Only Big Future has this.
  • Do you want to find sports programs by division?  College Data, College View and Princeton Review are good options for this.

One word of caution – The search is only as good as the data the schools publish.

My Favorite College Search Sites

  1. CollegeData – Hands down, my favorite college search site!  The amount of data provided for each school is fantastic.  The search functionality is very complete, including allowing you to search by the % of students receiving merit aid.  Students can also use the site to estimate admission chances at each college.  Search results can be saved and there is a lot of other great data available on the site.
  2. Noodle – This is a great site with a different twist on how to search for a college.  You answer interesting questions like what you are likely to be doing on a Saturday night, what your ideal workload would be and do you want a school where sports are big on campus.
  3. Niche (formerly College Prowler) – We used this site extensively during my oldest daughter’s college search because it offers so much.  It has college search functionality, scholarship search functionality, student ratings and reviews.  tudent reviews are added frequently and it really allows you to get insights that aren’t available elsewhere unless you are able to personally talk to current students.
  4. Big Future – I like this site because of the extensive search criteria you can use along with the ability to indicate whether something is a “must have,” a “want,” or “don’t care.”  Once you have generated a list of colleges, you can easily view a wide variety of data for each school.  One very helpful page of school information is Financial Aid by the Numbers.  Average need-based and non-need based aid figures are provided, along with average indebtedness at graduation.
  5. College Navigator – This site comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  The look and feel of the site is kind of clunky and old-fashioned compared to most of the others, but it does provide a lot of interesting data for each school.  It has a really good breakdown for financial aid showing the percentages of incoming freshmen who received each type and the average awards.  The data is a couple years old, but it’s still helpful.

It can be helpful to try out several college search websites and find what you like best.  We used several in each of our daughters’ college searches.  Sometimes it’s nice to have validation that if you search on different sites, you are still brought back to the same schools.  Once in a while you will find a new school that you hadn’t considered yet.  Happy searching!


Jen Cook · July 22, 2013 at 9:41 am

Great article! Thanks for sharing those tips! Super helpful!

tarrence · September 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Great post, I am suprized you don’t have cappex on the list but college confidential is really great

    Wendy Nelson · September 8, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Tarrence, thanks for your comment. I have recommended the Cappex site a lot in my posts. It is useful for college searches, but I don’t think that is the site’s strongest feature. I like it best for tracking the schools the student wants to apply to and looking for scholarships. Cappex definitely would be a great site to use as a “one stop shop” site for searching and tracking colleges, getting notifications from other colleges that might fit, planning college visits and looking for scholarships.

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