College Planning

By Wendy Thompson


With so many colleges out there (over 3,400), you may be feeling overwhelmed.  How do you narrow down your search?  Where do you start?  Luckily, there are ways to search based on what your preferences are.  Is there a specific part of the country you’d like to be in?  Does the college have your major that you want? Does the college base their admission on test scores?  Do you want to attend a highly selective college, a large or small college, or a college that has the sport you play?  Sites like these can help: 

·         College Board Big Future:

·         National Center for Education Statistics:

·          Universities Canada: search by major, location:

·          Unsure what college is right for you? Ø

·         "What Size College Should You Choose? –


Another helpful site with a wide variety of topics, researched with input from many higher education professionals and created by an educational consultant and former admissions dean is College Express:  And another site to help you narrow down your search is Colleges That Change Lives:,


Some helpful books are Fiske Guide to Colleges which contains an insider's look at the academic climates and social and extracurricular scenes at schools in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain by including academic, social & quality of life ratings,  schools with the best education at the most reasonable cost, student tips, overlap listings to help students expand options, selectivity statistics, SAT and ACT ranges, and more; The Best 385 Colleges by the Princeton Review has helpful descriptions of colleges in the Fiske Guide + many others--the most valuable sections under each college are those titled Life, Student Body, and The Inside Word and makes a good companion piece to Fiske; The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process at a Premier College by former NY Times education reporter Jacques Steinberg, which has a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what actually happens during the selection process at a highly selective college, and although nonfiction, it reads like a novel and is enlightening for both parents and students. 

Maybe you are concerned about retention rates and if colleges provide enough support for their students.  This is a helpful site for you to check out:  


Many students, as they are getting ready for college, want to know what colleges are looking for in students.  How do admissions departments make their decisions?  This site is very helpful in this area:  When you look at this site Under Applying, you’ll see ranks  for various factors in admission departments’ decisions.


Some students feel worried about tests like the SAT or ACT and wonder if there are colleges who look at other ways of admitting students.  Would you like to look at colleges that are test-optional or test-flexible?  You can find a great list here:


Lastly, some students feel they need to take a year off from school for many reasons:  they’d like to work and save money, they may need a period of time for growth, or there may be some circumstances in their lives that necessitate taking some time off.  Here is a great site to check out:  If you are already in college, check this site out:  And more advice and resources here:, or, or


It is always important to check sites again before you make decisions in order to get the most current information possible.  Information is a great tool for you to make the best decision possible during your college planning journey.  If you would like the answers to many questions about college planning, check the Ask Wendy section of the Westport Educational Consulting website https://westporteducationalconsulting/ask-wendy/.


Wendy’s background includes twelve years on the admissions staff at Bowdoin College (2000-2012) and she has been assisting students in the college search, selection, and application process since 2003.  Take advantage of Wendy's extensive experience as an admissions officer and college counselor and make the college admissions process both enjoyable and less stressful for your family.