A selection of Web sites and books to aid you.
College Board (www.collegeboard.com)
A one-stop shop for nearly all your college needs brought to you by the folks who administer the SAT: apply online to more than 500 colleges, register for the SATs, test yourself on the SAT Question of the Day and peruse a list of 101 mind-expanding (and theoretically test-score enhancing) books, from Beowulf to Beloved. You can look up 3,500 schools and compare your three faves on a single screen.
National Center for Education Statistics (www.nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cool)
This site is well worth a visit. Among its assets: You can look up colleges by state. For example, you can ask what public colleges teach architecture in Washington (Answer: UW, WSU and Eastern).
Rich college profiles, full of descriptions and stats. For example, details on Central Washington University range from its freshman retention rate (73 percent) to the average student's indebtedness upon graduation ($18,461).
Go college (www.gocollege.com)
Includes a searchable database for finding the right school, Paying for it information, a distance learning database of courses and test information.
Common Application (www.commonapp.org)
Download the common application and voilà! You have a form you can fill in, photocopy and mail off to several colleges at once. Schools accepting the common application are listed from Adelphi to Yale.
Princeton Review (www.princetonreview.com)
The site's Counselor-O-Matic suggests good-fit colleges based on how you answer its questions ("Would you like to go to college near home or get the heck out of Dodge?") Also: a chat board, applications to some 700 schools, scholarship sources and a free, full-length practice SAT. One downside: School profiles offer little info.
Paying for it (www.finaid.org)
The full scoop on paying for collegeplus a link to fastweb.com's easy-to-use scholarship search. Fill out a questionnaire Are you bisexual? Canadian? Asthmatic? then get a list of possible money sources. One rub: Searches are often stalled by intrusive magazine-sub offers and other come-ons.
My College Guide (www.mycollegeguide.org)
How do you deal with a dad who's pushing you to attend his alma mater? The Admissions Guru knows. Along with customized advice, the site offers Weird Facts of the Day and an eye-popping color scheme: lime-green, orange, periwinkle. But don't be fooled by the fun; the advice advice here is top-notch.
Cure your writer's block: Read real-life college essays critiqued and edited by "Harvard-educated editors." A look at the site's writing samples is free. But it'll cost you $79.95 if you want the Ivy editors to have a go at your essay.
College Planning Network (www.collegeplan.org)
You won't find glitz (the site looks like an online version of a tax attorney's office). But you will find the Pacific Northwest Scholarship Guide. Run by a Seattle-based nonprofit, it gives the lowdown on money given by everyone from Weyerhaeuser to the Seattle Swedish Club along with notices of upcoming local college workshops. Financial planning workshops? Free? What sort of people give 'em?
National Collegiate Athletic Association (www.ncaa.org)
The info. here could fill a football field. College-bound athletes will not only find recruiting calendars, they'll also discover game schedules, school rankings, NCAA scholarship details and athletic contacts at universities around the nation.
National Association for College Admissions Counseling (www.nacac.com/fairs.html)
College fair dates, locations and participating colleges, plus tips on how to get the most out of college fairs.
"You're Gonna Love This College Guide" by Marty Nemko, Barron's, 1999, $9.95. The title says it all. A lively, concise, easy read, offering teens a great start to their college search.
"The Best 357 Colleges," The Princeton Review, Random House, 2005, $21.95. Each college gets a two-page spread, with info including number of students, tuition, class size and campus character. A special feature lists schools somewhat similar to the school you're considering. Whitman College applicants, for example, are said to "sometimes" prefer the University of Puget Sound and Pomona College.
"Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You" by Loren Pope, Penguin, 1996 revised edition, $15. Harvard and Yale are big names that may look good on a rear-window decal, but might not be right for you. Along with offering tips on the college application process, the author suggests schools for self-starters (Evergreen, Hampshire, Bard), intellectuals (Reed, St. John's in Maryland, Santa Fe) and late-bloomers (Windham College in Vermont works only with learning-disabled students).
"The Insider's Guide to the Colleges 2005: 31st Edition," Yale Daily News Staff, St. Martin's, 2004, $17.99. The scoop on everything from drug use to dorm food at more than 300 schools, from the students who live there. Entries end with a look at the three best and worst things about a school, as well as what students wish they had known knew before arriving.
"The Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College" by Edward Fiske and Bruce Hammond, Times Books, 2002, $14.95. All-in-one guide includes a list of best-bargain colleges and a chapter on sizing yourself up — meant to be read before you dive into a college search.
"The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College" by Jacques Steinberg, Penguin Books, 2003 reissue, $15. Behind-the-scenes account by a New York Times education reporter who spent a year following the admissions process at prestigious Wesleyan University. What he uncovers is fascinating — and often dismaying. A must-read for anyone aiming for a "selective" university.
"College in a Can" by Sandra and Harry Choron, Houghton Mifflin, 2004, $12. Featuring more than 250 lists, this book alternates between the silly ("Ten Haunted Colleges") and the serious ("The 10 Most Difficult Colleges to Get Into"). Although it's fun for college applicants to flip through (did you know that Bill Gates never finished college?), the book really speaks to kids already in college — offering tips on curing homesickness, talking to profs and finding cheap textbooks. A great book to tuck in your bag as you head off to your freshman year
"21 'To Do' Lists for High School" by Valerie Pierce with Cheryl Rilly, Front Porch Press 2003, $9.95. In this pocket-size guide you'll find to-do lists for every year of high school. The info is a bit thin, but it's presented in quick, bite-size chucks, making it especially friendly for busy high-schoolers.
"How to Get Into College," Newsweek Magazine and Kaplan, 2005 edition, $7.95. The first 50-plus pages are chock full of glossy photos and trendy pieces by Newsweek staffers. The rest: gray pages filled with valuable-but-no-frills advice by college admissions officers and Kaplan staff on topics ranging from admissions essays to no-pay colleges. Includes an SAT/ACT sample test and a section on 300-plus "Most Interesting" colleges.
"College Handbook," College Board, 2004, $27.95. Comprehensive list of two- and four-year schools in the US, from the UW to the Northwest Aviation College in Auburn (19 students). You'll need a hand truck to cart this hefty tome home. (But you'll probably find it in your school counseling office.)
"African American Student's Guide to College" by Marisa Parham, Random House, 1999, $17.95. Much of the info here can be found in generic guidebooks. However, it does offer some helpful extras, including a list of African-American organizations at various schools and advice on ways to counter campus racism.
"Get Into Any College: Secrets of Harvard Students" by Gen S. Tanabe and Kelly Y. Tanabe, SuperCollege, 2003, $16.95. More lively than most guides, this one helps you create a "stunning" application and an "irresistible" essay. A tip on essays: Avoid dumb topics, such as your bad grades, your dysfunctional family or why College X is perfect for you. The college is well aware of its scenic campus and excellent profs; it would rather hear something new.
U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 30, 2004. Each summer the magazine ranks schools in various categories. For example, the University of Washington is ranked 46th among the "best national universities." Among "best liberal-arts colleges," Whitman is 35th, Reed is 53rd, and Lewis & Clark College and University of Puget Sound both are ranked 77th. More info: www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/cohome.htm.
K.I.S.S. Your Way to College, $19.95. Available online at www.kissyourwaytocollege.com
This calendar for high-school seniors includes a detailed to-do list for each month of the year to help organize the college application process. It was assembled by parents of recent high-school graduates who offer top-notch and detailed advice. In addition to boilerplate reminders, such as the Nov. 15 early-application deadline, they give inside tips such as reducing the cash in your savings account before you fill out your FAFSA, so colleges don't count it against you and cut the amount of scholarships you receive. A bit of parental cheesiness comes through at times — the authors encourage students to "treat yourself to an ice cream" on the weekends and highlight important dates with a cartoon alarm clock. But it's tolerable. The verdict on this calendar from a recent grad: "My mom would have loved it."
Center for Student Success (www.centerforstudentsuccess.org), 190 Queen Anne Ave. N., Suite 300. Free to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m.-5p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Here's where you can do your one-stop college shopping. The center is staffed by college advisers and contains computers with Internet access, as well as a full library of college catalogs and guides. Funding comes from the Northwest Education Loan Association (www.nela.net), a nonprofit that aims to help families understand financial aid and student loans.
"Study Away" by Mariah Balaban and Jennifer Shields, Anchor Books, 2003, $13.95. How does the idea of studying art in Florence grab you? Or Latin American Studies in Mexico City? Or public health in South Africa? This book profiles English-language schools in 30 countries, provides admission requirements, campus descriptions and contact numbers. Between them, the authors have studied in England, France, Russia, Scotland and the West Indies. So you know it can be done.
"Study Abroad," Thomson Corp. and Peterson's, 2003, $29.95. More than 1,800 overseas schools and programs are detailed. Among the listings: the University of Wisconsin's Year In Nepal program (no foreign language required) and Gonzaga University's studies in Florence. A separate section covers programs for special-needs students.
"The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life" by Laura S. Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt, Three Rivers Press, 2002, $13. The stretch between your child's senior year of high school and freshman year of college can be pretty stressful — for the whole family. The authors provide practical parenting advice on managing your teens' bouts of senioritis and your own fears of separation.
"When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents' Survival Guide" by Carol Barkin, Avon, 1999, $12. In her son's senior year, the author met informally with other parents, comparing notes on emotional issues (How do you weather kids' pre-college emotional storms?) and more practical matters (Do you send a kid off to college with a car?). This book reads like a carry-over of those friendly chats, full of parents' voices and helpful hints.
"Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions" by Sally Rubenstone and Sidonia Dalby, Thomson Corp. and Peterson's, 2002, $14.95. This guide tackles questions not often covered elsewhere: How involved should parents be in the college-selection process? Who are independent counselors and how do you know if you need one? If your child doesn't get into a school, can you appeal the decision? The authors draw on interviews with deans of admissions and other experts.
"Parents' Guide to College Admissions," by Marjorie Nieuwenhuis, Simon and Schuster, 2000, $14. It's all here, from planning a solid high-school schedule to applying for financial aid. A straightforward and comprehensive guidebook that makes up in breadth what it lacks in depth.
Students with disabilities
"Peterson's Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders" by Charles T. Magrum and Stephen S. Strichart, Peterson's Guides, 2000, $29.95. Students with special needs can use this book to compare more than 750 two- and four-year colleges. Included are schools with taped textbooks, human note-takers, remediation classes, and tutoring or counseling for students with learning disabilities or attention-deficit disorder. Washington State University and Western Washington University make the list.