by Jan Zauha
With more than 4,000 institutions of higher education in the U.S., prospective students need help
identifying and sorting through the college tangle. In some cases, the Web can deliver that help.
Searching for college information on the Web has evolved from a hunting and gathering foray into
a more logically mapped journey. There are still some pitfalls and danger zones for the college
seeker on the Web, but the task of identifying programs, services, and other information can be
easier using some key resources and a critical eye.
Locating specific college Web sites has been relatively easy for some time. Basic listings such
as Web US Higher Education offer no-frills indexing by
institution name and location. International and domestic listings can be found in the education
section of subject directories such as Yahoo. Using these
resources alone to identify potential programs can still mean laborious searching through hundreds
of specific sites. Performing a narrower, more directed search for institutions that offer specific
bachelor degrees requires using a college search service such as DegreeSearch. With its clean, quick search capabilities, DegreeSearch helps identify programs,
but, as which many Web resources, the currency of the information retrieved is questionable.
Higher profile services such as Peterson's and the Princeton Review offer more consistently up-to-date
information. The drawback with their Web versions is that they mingle massive, slow-loading graphics
and "soft" information (party schools and other rankings) with serious information on programs,
application processes, and test preparation. Using the "majors index" of Peterson's Guide to
Four-Year Colleges in print often yields more information more quickly, even if you have to
drive to the library to use it.
Guides to graduate study are usually included on undergraduate-focused sites, but exploring a
graduate-specific site like Gradschools.com is preferable
because peripheral information about undergraduate topics such as campus life is often absent.
Instead, a clean index of graduate programs organized by subject and school makes this resource
quick and easy to use.
Many of these Web services also include distance learning information, but sites like MindEdge and Degree.net focus specifically on distance programs. Like Peterson's, both are spin-offs from print resources
and have commercial goals in mind. International program information is best sought at sites like USNEI and the international programs office of specific
universities such as MSU-Bozeman.
Financing an education is logically also part of most college service sites, but Student Financial Assistance from the U.S.
Department of Education, the largest source of student aid, offers help at every step, including
repayment, of course.
Some of the most sought-after information about colleges is also the most problematic.
Comparisons or rankings of programs and schools are available on web sites like USNews.com, but the consumer needs to be well aware
that the business of college rankings has deservedly drawn a great deal of fire and should be
used with caution. Look into the Boston College Libraries' Research Guide: Educational Rankings for further information, caveats,
and links to college rankings. If campus security is a major criterion, see the Office of Public Education's Security Statistics site and
make your own comparisons.
For help locating more information about college options, in print or online, call or stop in at
the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to
the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan Zauha is a reference librarian and the Electronic Information Coordinator
for the MSU Libraries.