Simplify the College Search: 5 Free Tools for High School Counselors and Students [Episode 91]


Here's What to Expect In This Episode:

As we gear up for the school year, I know you’ve probably already started fielding questions from your seniors about their college search. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to know every single fact about every college!

In this episode, I’ll share five free resources that you can direct your students to for their college search journey. From college search engines to school websites and even social media, we’ve got all the tools you need to equip your students. 

You can share these college search resources with your students and send them on their way or you can sit with them and look up information together. Let’s get started on helping students find their perfect fit college!

Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • A reminder to start the college conversation early
  • Five free college research tools and how to best utilize them
  • When college rankings might be helpful to your students
  • How to educate your students on these college search tools, such as creating a video training
  • The best way to give students a peek into student life on college campuses
  • How a school’s net calculator tool can help families
  • Keeping your eyes open for student fly-in opportunities

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Read the transcript for this episode:

Hi there new listeners and veteran listeners alike. If you’ve been a longtime listener of the pod, I just want to say thanks for tuning in week after week. I’m always encouraged that you’re here and I love hearing your feedback about the podcast.

Here’s a five star review from Margie called My favorite podcast as a high school counselor, which already has me beaming. Margie says, “love listening to Lauren’s podcast as I take a morning walk. They energize me professionally and always include a few ideas I can implement immediately strongly recommend.”

Well, I love that Margie is adding this podcast into her morning routine with a walk and some listening to start her day. Thanks for that review, Margie. If you’d be so kind to leave a review, it’ll help other high school counselors find the show and energize them professionally.

So head to the podcast show notes to click the link and leave a review in Apple podcasts. As we’re gearing up to start the school year, or maybe you’ve been in the full swing of things for about a month now, you’re probably diving right into seniors asking you all the questions about college.

Last year I did an episode called How to Run senior meetings like a boss because let’s face it, you are such a counselor boss. Let’s get a little more specific though with some places that you can equip students to search for colleges with you or on their own.

As an encouragement to you, you do not have to memorize every single fact out there about every single college that’s unrealistic. You can share information with your students about where to look for college information and you can sit with them and look up information together.

It’s time to dive right in. Here are five free places to direct your students to as they’re researching colleges. Feel free to grab these ideas and incorporate them into your classroom lessons or meetings with your students this year.

You got into this profession to make a difference in your students lives, but you’re spread thin by all the things that keep getting added to your to do list. I can’t create more hours in the day, but I can invite you into my Counselor Clique where you’ll finally catch your breath.

Come with me as we unpack creative ideas and effective strategies that will help you be the counselor who leaves a lifelong impact on your students. I’m Lauren Tingle your high school counseling hype girl here to help you energize your school counseling program and remind you of how much you love your job.

First up college search engines. This one is obvious right? But these resources don’t sit at the top of students minds like they do yours as the school counselor. One of my favorite free tools is College Board Big Futures now, I have lots of buttons to pick about other things related to college board ahem standardized testing, but their college search tools are pretty darn good.

Students can create their free account or they might probably already have one if they’ve taken the PSAT SATs or AP tests, and then use the Bright Futures part of the site to navigate through colleges. You can save your favorites, compare them side by side see the big picture facts of the schools. It’s a really great starting point for the college search process.

In the same category of college search engines, I’m gonna put the US News’s College Rankings in here. However, rankings are not everything. I think these rankings would be a great place to go if a student has something that’s really important to them. And they want to get say five to 10 schools that are best for name your thing, insert your thing here, business schools innovation, the best value.

You say your category, you can find it on a US News and World Report’s college rankings list right? I think looking at lists like this can start a brainstorming process before they start digging deeper into schools using something like the big futures website.

If your school pays for Naviance already, don’t let your students forget about it. I always used to tell students, the district is paying for this. This is a paid resource, you do not have to pay for it. But please use it. It’s just one more tool for gathering tons of information about a school by doing things like saving your favorites to your profile, and then being able to keep everything organized as you’re going through that search process.

Spend time educating your students on the search tools in a tier one intervention. So whether that’s a video training that you put out and your teachers play in class, or popping into all the English classes to get them started on this research. This is not just a senior year activity. So it’s helpful to start the conversation early.

You could share the same thing with them every year. And then let’s be real, maybe it’ll start sticking by the time they’re in 12th grade.

Okay, next up, if students have an idea of some colleges that they’re already interested in, the school’s direct websites are going to have so much information on them if the student knows where to look. A quick Google search for a freshman year profile or a first year profile will show a student some basic information about the most recent class that the school is welcomed in.

From their demographics, their testing to their GPAs to in state versus out of state numbers. All of these facts will help a student put themselves in the shoes of an applicant to be able to self assess whether the school may be a good fit for them or not.

I think this is also helpful for parents and students to look at together maybe in front of you too. If you want to get a point across? Because they always want to know the answer to Will they get in to this school or if this is the only school they’re applying to you, we want to make sure they’re gonna get in.

You get to present the facts, and then you get to let them make the judgment calls and even then none of us really know if they’re gonna get in or not. But here are the facts that we do know based on the information that we’ve been given.

Students can also engage virtually with information on colleges websites, like a live chat feature with admissions counselors, video tours, and then even emailing the assigned area admissions representative. Many schools hope that students will actually reach out to them and so then they mark internally that the student showed demonstrated interest in the school by engaging with the school so getting on their email list, attending a recruiting event, or simply sending an email to ask a question. Don’t underestimate the power of looking at and digging into a school’s website.

The Clique Collaborative is a membership for high school counselors designed to equip, encourage and connect counselors to their greater community. With a professional development driven mindset, the membership hub comes loaded with 25 Plus instantly accessible PD videos, completion certificates and bonus features like templates, checklists and counseling resources.

But the best part isn’t the features. It’s the changes you’ll see in your confidence and your counseling program. Inside you’ll find worthwhile practical and applicable PD that propels you to action and a community full of your people where you can grow, connect and feel validated. Does this sound like the support you’ve been looking for? If so, I want to invite you to check out the Clique Collaborative at

Now here’s the next place that students can really get behind. Social media. I’m sure you’re not surprised by this. Wanna peek into campus life or student life. Look at the school on YouTube, Instagram or Tiktok. Oftentimes, schools have individual accounts for all the different aspects of their campus, from sports teams to clubs and Greek life to dorms, students will be able to get a feel for the student personality on campus and lots of behind the scenes of these video tours and informative snippets.

The fourth place that students can get equipped for their college search process is with the school’s Net Price Calculator. This is required for schools to post on their website. So a simple Google search with the school name plus net price calculator will most likely bring you to this page.

The net price calculator helps students and families determine their expected family contribution and estimate grants and scholarships based on the student’s own self reporting of information. It gives them a good idea of how much it might realistically cost to go to the school based on all of those preferences and the information that they input for residency living arrangements and merit estimates.

Once it’s spit out some of that custom financial information back towards the student, it’ll give them links to next steps like filling out the FAFSA, applying for work study learning about loans. Using a net price calculator can ease the overwhelm of the financial mystery piece of going to college and make it a lot more transparent, which I think is really helpful throughout the process.

Last but not least, keep your eyes open for opportunities for student fly-ins. I know I know your email inbox as a counselor is overflowing especially with junk mail from colleges that you don’t care about. But if you ever see one about a fly in a student flying or a counselor fly in, open it, read it check it out.

These are paid for by the school. Some of the student fly-in programs have prerequisites based on diversity first generation status or income level. And some are just for everyone. Encourage your students to get on college email lists are check the websites of schools are interested in to see if they have a student fly in program as an option for them to go visit.

Colleges are often trying to recruit from farther away and increase their regional diversity. So this is a way that they can do that, while bringing students to their campus to win them over in person. If a student is interested in doing this, but they can’t find information on it at a school or like on their website, and they really do want to go visit it is always worth an email out to the school to ask if they have a program like this.

It never hurts to ask. And who knows. If enough people ask, maybe it’ll be a program that they in state that they’ve never had before.

So here’s a recap, here are the five places that you can either hold your students hands or push them to independently search for colleges. Either way, you’re equipping them for their futures with free search resources. College search engines, schools direct websites social media, the net price calculator for their financial needs and student fly-in opportunities.

Remember, head over to Apple podcasts and leave a five star review to help other high school counselors find this podcast and we will talk again next week. I’ll see you then.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode of high school counseling conversations. All the links I talked about today can be found in the show notes and also at Be sure to hit follow wherever you listen to your podcasts so that you never miss a new episode. Connect with me over on Instagram feel free to send me a DM @counselorclique. That’s C-L-I-Q-U-E. I’ll see you next week

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Cheers + Happy Listening!

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