10 Free Search Tools to Find Your Dream School

There are about 3,700 two- and four-year colleges in the U.S. With so many to choose from, how can you find the best fit for you? A college search engine is the best place to start. You can filter your results by location, school size, tuition costs, selectivity or other factors. Some even feature reviews from students.

To help you get started, we’ve collected a few college search engines from around the web. If you’re putting together your college list, check out these 10 online tools.

1. College Board’s BigFuture
2. Cappex
3. College Insight
4. College Confidential
5. Niche
6. Unigo
7. College Navigator
8. College Simply
9. College XPress
10. Peterson’s

Reflect on what you want in a college

1. College Board’s BigFuture

College Board offers one of the best search tools around with BigFuture. You can find colleges by test scores, location, majors, support services and diversity.

If you create an account, you can save your favorite colleges and revisit them later. In addition to its college finder, College Board offers tips on how to apply for financial aid or explore careers.

2. Cappex

Cappex is another top resource and college search engine. You can search through thousands of schools, plus you can estimate your chances of admission based on your GPA and admission test scores.

You can also use the “Fit Score” to gauge whether a college could be a good match for you. The fit meter assigns a percentage to each school based on your preferences, like school size and tuition cost. If you get 90% or higher, the school could be a great fit.

Finally, you can estimate your chances of gaining admission to specific schools by inputting your grade and test score information.

3. College Insight

Some college search websites let you save a list of your favorites, but College Insight takes things a step further. With College Insight, you can build tables with any combination of variables to compare colleges. You can pick out the most relevant data and information to compare schools in a way that makes sense for you.

4. College Confidential

You might know College Confidential as a discussion forum, but the college search site also offers a comprehensive tool. The filters don’t get as specific as some other sites, but they’re enough to help you start building a college list. Once you narrow your results, you can learn about each school’s acceptance rate, tuition costs and test scores, among other essential facts.

5. Niche

Niche is another great resource for learning about colleges across the country. After narrowing down your list, you’ll see that each college comes with a “report card” and overall grade.

Niche gives grades for professors, athletics, dorms and safety, among other concerns. Plus, it creates its rankings based on data from the U.S. Department of Education (DoED) so that you can browse colleges by state or major.

6. Unigo

Unigo mixes up the traditional college search format. Instead of selecting filters, you’ll answer questions through a college match quiz. Then, Unigo will match you with colleges based on your responses. You can learn about each school, as well as read unbiased student reviews.

Besides its college search engine, Unigo also helps you find scholarships.

7. College Navigator

College Navigator is a free college search tool offered by the DoED’s National Center for Education Statistics. Although the design of the website isn’t exactly slick, it’s a thorough directory with up-to-date info.

You can filter schools by location, selectivity, sports teams and other criteria. Plus, you can indicate tuition costs and your state of residency; the tool will even take into account in-state versus out-of-state tuition.

Use College Navigator for a no-frills look at facts and figures.

8. College Simply

College Simply doesn’t have a ton of search filters, but it does collect a huge number of student reviews. You can find schools by test scores, state, ranking or acceptance rate.

Then, learn some basic facts about each college and read through reviews. Although College Simply isn’t as thorough as some other college search tools, it’s a useful place to start.

9. College XPress

Over 4.2 million students use College Xpress to find colleges and browse rankings. In addition to getting matched with schools, you can scan over $7 billion in scholarship opportunities.

After you create an account, you’ll be able to sign back in later to revisit your college list or track your scholarship applications.

10. Peterson’s

If you’re just beginning the college search process, Peterson’s College Search tool could be a good starting point. Its College Discovery Center provides pre-made lists of schools categorized by major or field.

You can also use the site’s search function to narrow your results by major, location or another keyword. From there, Peterson’s delivers the same filtering functionality as its competitors.

Finally, Peterson’s is something of a one-stop shop, with its additional resources for test preparation and scholarships.

Reflect on what you want in a college

All these college search engines contain a wealth of information about schools across the country. But to make the most of them, you first need to reflect on what you want out of college.

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to stay close to home or go across the country?
  • Would I prefer a rural, suburban or urban setting?
  • Am I looking for a small, medium or big school?
  • Do I care about the professor-to-student ratio?
  • What am I looking for regarding majors, student organizations or sports teams?

Once you’ve figured out what you want in a college, use a college search engine to find schools that match your preferences. As you finalize your list, use these tips to compare colleges and select the one that’s best for you.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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