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Exploring Colleges & Universities

The acceptance letters are streaming in, and many high school seniors are faced with a big decision -- what college to attend. Whether they're counting the hours until graduation or just getting ready to take the SAT, we know of a few sites that will help freshmen-to-be do their homework.

There are plenty of guides ready to take you on a virtual tour of campus. The College Board's Planning for College is an all-around awesome site. You probably recognize the Board as the sponsor of the SAT®, PSAT® and AP® exams. Their site acts as a gateway to information on selecting a college, applying to it, visiting it and finding the funding to attend it. They also offer great test taking tips, including an "SAT question of the day." (And since they know the answers...). At CollegeView , you can browse through basic information and statistics on many schools.

Colleges and universities charge application fees, so it pays to narrow your list. You probably have the glossy brochures. To get some hard numbers, go to U.S. News and World Report's annual College Rankings. You'll learn which schools came out on top in your state or region. Pay close attention to how schools are ranked, as some criteria may not be important to you. If you know what fields of study you are interested in, Petersons.com does a good job of describing the strengths of programs at different universities, and includes contact information for each.

Once you've narrowed it down or have acceptance letters in hand, you may want to visit schools. Yes, we're talking about leaving your computer and actually visiting the place. But before you do, comb through the school's web site. You'll probably find it on the list of American Universities or U.S. Universities by State. If not, put one of the search engines to the test or try an intuitive guess like www.nameofuniversity.edu. You can also try CampusTours, which offers an online index of college and university virtual campus tours. To get a sense for the student culture, check out the school's student newspaper.




Have your heart set on a school, but can't afford it? Welcome to financial aid. The Financial Aid Information Page is a great gateway to loan and scholarship information, but the text is so small that you'll need a magnifying glass. Squint. It's worth it. Another great resource for financial aid information is Fastweb. You provide the site with personal information, then receive a mailbox with applicable school, scholarship and loan information. Students applying for financial aid will need to fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. At the FAFSA site, you'll find downloadable versions and detailed instructions on filling out the form. The Student Guide provides more information on grants, loans and work study from the U.S. Department of Education.

Your demographics, interests and talents could also net you a scholarship. The College Board's Online Scholarship Search allows you to conduct a search of more than more than 3,400 national, state, public and private sources. If you play a high school sport, check out Scout USA. For a one-time fee, AllSport Recruiting Coordinators will keep you on the radar of your collegiate coaches of choice for your entire high school or JC career.

For those taking, or retaking standardized tests, there are a number of test preparation sites available. As you probably know, this is a big moneymaking business in America. However, some free courses are available at TestPrep.com. If you have the luxury of spending some cash on test prep, take a look at Kaplan and The Princeton Review. Both offer a fair amount of free information, but ultimately want to sell you their books, software and classes. For SAT and ACT information, you can always go straight to the source.




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