Essential Online Resources to Aid Students in College Planning

Summer, when school is out and schedules are more relaxed, is a great time for students to start thinking about college. While it’s tempting to spend the summer at the pool or playing video games, college planning takes time and shouldn’t be put off.

Depending on a student’s grade level, this could be as simple as reflecting on goals and making a plan of action for the school year. For students in high school, especially those entering 12th grade in the fall, such planning could also include researching colleges and majors, applying for scholarships, and visiting prospective schools.

Wherever you and your student are in the college planning process, these useful online resources can help you and your student make good use of the summer and set the stage for college success.


Resources for the Beginning Stages of Thinking About College

  • Student Preparation Checklist – This guide from Federal Student Aid includes a helpful timeline of things students and their parents should do to prepare for college, from middle school, through the end of high school.
  • KnowHow2Go – Offers advice and college planning resources for students in middle school and high school. A timeline and checklist for each grade breaks down college planning, prepping, and applying into simple steps. The Links2Go section offers helpful resources around the web on a range of topics.
  • College Grazing – For students who aren’t sure about their goals, College Grazing offers a number of self-assessment surveys to help students figure out what they want out of college and get feedback about their interests. Planning checklists for each year of high school, essay guides, videos, and other resources help to guide students along the way.
  • NextStepU – Provides lots of articles and step-by-step guides to planning, applying, and paying for college as well as advice on other decisions, like transferring, study abroad, gap years, and finding scholarships.


resources for researching schools


  • Big Future College Search – This college search tool from College Board matches students to the schools that meet their interests and needs. If you and your child are not sure what you want in a college, the interactive step-by-step guide can help you discover the types of colleges that match best to your goals. Other great resources include advice on college interviews and visits, getting letters of recommendation, and paying for college.
  • College Navigator – This is a simple-to-use college search engine from the Institute of Education Sciences. Here you’ll also find the College Affordability and Transparency Center; a great resource for comparing schools by tuition and net price.
  • – Once you have some colleges in mind, you and your student can begin browsing 250,000 college reviews from current students. Or use Unigo’s college ranking lists to discover the safest schools, the best institutions for pre-professionals, and other categories.


Resources for Applying to Schools

  • National Association for College Admission Counseling – These articles, worksheets, and checklists on writing application essays, filling out applications, campus visits, financial aid, and community college options, can help students and parents navigate the sometimes bewildering college application process. Use the schedule of College Fairs to find an opportunity to meet college representatives face to face.
  • College Confidential – Here you’ll find a great list of articles and resources with advice on applying for college and making sense of college applications.
  • – This site offers a surprisingly in-depth collection of articles and advice on writing a great application essay. You’ll also find many resources specifically for the Common Application used by an increasing number of public and private institutions.


Resources on Paying for College

  • Federal Student Aid – Here are resources and information from the U.S. Department of Education to help students plan for and pay for college.
  • FAFSA – Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a must for college students.
  • Fastweb – Fastweb’s scholarship and internship finder is a great resource for discovering opportunities to find money for school.
  • – An extensive scholarship search engine, as well as a wealth of information on applying for scholarships; from writing effective essays and making videos, to tips on appropriate etiquette for recipients.

Find more resources for college planning on Learning Liftoff’s College Prep section.

This post originally published in 2014 and has been revised and republished

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