IvyWise Resources

How to Research College Options

High school student uses a laptop to research college options and build her college list.

By Kimberly, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

The decision as to where and how a student continues their post-secondary education is not one to be made lightly and requires a lot of self-reflection and consideration. At IvyWise, we recommend that students spend significant time learning as much as they can about their college options.

While the best source of information is to visit campus to see the institution in action, this is not always possible due to time, cost, transportation, or other factors. Most students will have to research colleges from afar. Yet, the idea of research often feels nebulous and overwhelming for students, as they don’t know where to begin or what to look for. College websites can provide a lot of information, but these sites are designed for multiple audiences — current students, faculty, staff, alumni, campus partners, and prospective students — and the amount of information can feel overwhelming.

So, how can you, as a prospective student, find information that will be most helpful in determining whether an institution may be a good fit? Here are a few tips:

Tune Into Online Information Sessions

Many colleges have moved their traditional information sessions from an in-person to an online format. Through these, you can hear from an admission professional (and sometimes professors or students) and ask questions live. For a quick overview of a school, this is the way to go! And the information sessions are typically conducted as a webinar, which means that, as a participant, you can engage as much or as little with the presenter as you feel comfortable. Information sessions generally require sign ups in advance and can be found on each school/program website.

Take Advantage of Virtual Tours

While many colleges offer virtual tours on their websites, either live or pre-recorded, there are plenty more to be found across the internet. A favorite website for comprehensive virtual tours is YouVisit. They have great 360-degree tours (with commentary) and, if you’re feeling fancy, they even offer a virtual reality mode. Pro tip: pull up the website on a TV or large monitor so you can see the tours on a bigger screen. Note that not all schools are on YouVisit, but they are continually adding more.

Search for More Videos and Social Media

Lots of additional official and unofficial videos on universities and colleges are out there, especially on YouTube or Vimeo, and many schools and their student organizations also run Instagram and TikTok accounts. These casual accounts are great ways to learn about student life, campus traditions, and more.

Read a Book

Up until a few years ago, students and counselors relied almost entirely on college review books for information. You can get copies of past editions (not much has changed since 2020 or 2021!) for good prices on Amazon, eBay, and other places. Books are an easy way to get a quick feel for a place through a short summary.


A great way to learn about how an institution prepares its students for the future is to explore what its alumni are doing professionally. Each college or university has a page on LinkedIn (just type the name of the school into the search bar at the top). Under each official page is a tab that says ‘Alumni.’ From there, you can immediately see the top companies that employ alums from that institution, and where alums live around the world.

You can also enter search terms to pull up specific profiles or tailor the information to your interests. For example, do you want to know how many alums are in law and where they went to law school? Enter ‘law’ as a search term to see a complete list of alums currently working in the field.

Work Your Networks

The best way to learn about a school is to speak to a current student. Some schools have student ambassadors who speak with prospective students, but you likely have lots of connections through family and friends in your community that can help connect you with someone who can speak candidly about a school. Don’t be shy about reaching out to someone who you only tangentially know; most students LOVE talking about their college and experiences!

Take Notes

Researching schools is great, but it’s not helpful if you can’t keep track of which school is which. Take notes while watching videos or listening to online sessions. Use a GoogleDoc or Word document to keep information and pictures in one place, take voice memos on what stood out to you, and have someone else ask you questions about the school afterward and write down your answers so you can process your thoughts. Do what works for you to remember and reflect.

Doing proper research is the first step to building a balanced list of best-fit colleges. Take your time to look closely at every college you’re interested in – as well as some that you discover along the way that you might not have considered before. At IvyWise, our counselors work with students to help them identify the schools that are the best fit for their interests and goals and where they will personally thrive. If you need help identifying and applying to colleges, contact us today.

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