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4 Free Sites That Have Changed College Applications Forever

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college application apps

Fzzzztt! Sparks are flying out of my computer like it’s the Fourth of July and after a few seconds the plastic around the keyboard begins to transform into a molten soup of graphite-colored pudding.

I work with high school seniors and counselors. As my laptop spirals down into an epic – and literal – meltdown, I can’t help but wonder what this sort of catastrophe would have meant for the college applicants of the past (i.e. before the year 2000). It would have been horrendous. Fortunately, the advent of cloud-based apps has solved the fried-laptop problem, as well as the basic challenges of building a decent college list, sorting essay requirements, finding scholarships, and preparing for standardized tests.

Thanks to the educational technology community and the innovative work of a handful of enterprising organizations, the college application landscape is changing in spectacular, mind-blowing ways. So, without further ado: four college planning sites that could change your life.

1. Raise.me

Microscholarships. The coolest … thing … ever. Also, free.

    • What does it do? High school students automatically earn scholarship money for getting a good grade in a class, participating in an after-school activity, volunteering, etc. Raise.me essentially rewards students for things they are already doing, and incentivizes students to keep up the good work. Brilliant.

    • Why is this important? The cost of college is a major roadblock for many students and families. This site lowers the price tag for college while incentivizing exactly the type of behavior that makes students more attractive as candidates and helps them succeed in college. Whoever thought this up is a straight-up genius.

    • Social? Most of the app is organized around individual performance, but students can earn additional scholarship money by inviting other students to the platform.

Drawbacks? Hard to think of drawbacks, other than the fact that the scholarships are not actual cash in your pocket but are deductions from the cost of attending college.

2. Khan Academy

The online course juggernaut has an entire section dedicated to standardized test prep. And another section dedicated to college admissions. Tons of exercise and practice materials, all free.

  • What does it do? Students take classes, watch videos, and browse exercises to burnish their test-taking and application-building skills.

  • Why is this important? College applications in the United States favor students with higher socio-economic status. Khan Academy is helping to level the playing field.

  • Social? Each lesson includes a thread where students can ask questions, provide comments, vote on responses, etc.

  • Drawbacks? Pretty hard to complain about free, high-quality test prep.

[Applying to college? Stay organized with the College Planning Checklist + Calendar for juniors and seniors.]

3. Big Future (College Board)

The publisher of the SAT offers a suite of college matching, career exploration, and financial aid resources on its Big Future website. And it's free.

  • What does it do? Students can search for schools by type, location, majors, test scores, and a variety of other factors. Students can then create their own college list from the search results. The site also includes videos and articles on a range of other application-related subjects.

  • Why is this important? Applying to college is really about finding the right match. With close to four thousand U.S. colleges to choose from, it is nearly impossible for students to find all of their potential matches without the help of college-matching apps like the one on Big Future.

  • Social? Not really.

  • Drawbacks? Would be nice if the financial aid information for each college broke down average tuition by income.

4. College Raptor

This site helps those looking for the right school narrow down their search. They will also help future applicants figure out the potential cost, the kind of grades/test scores needed, and whether it fits their "needs".

  • What does it do? Students can create their profile based on what they are looking for (strong department for major, price, etc.) and have a breakdown of which schools fit their profile the best. They can also see what kind of loans are available and whether they are likely to get in based on the student's profile.

  • Why is this important? Applying to college isn't just about whether it's the best school or best department. It's also about whether the student can take on that financial responsibility. The cost and the amount of debt they will take on to graduate are all important considerations.

  • Social? While you can leave comments on their articles, there isn't a lot of activity and they do not have any message boards.

  • Drawbacks? The net prices are estimates and the odds of acceptance are also just a guess. While they create a comprehensive profile and run as many factors as they can, they openly admit that the estimates can vary based on things like individual class work, class rank, and other unique factors that they are unable to take into consideration.