15 Best College Search Tools
It is important for every prospective college student must compare colleges using the best college search tools. The main reason: Getting a college education is a huge decision, both in monetary and non-monetary terms.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the average tuition costs and fees for in-state students in public colleges and universities for 2022-2023 is $10,423 and $22,953. In private colleges and universities, students pay $39,723 per year on average—and the costs have increased, too, from the past years.
Most, if not all, of the best college search tools enable prospective college students and their families to streamline the college selection process. With numerous college websites and college rankings available, it can be overwhelming to take a closer look at every single one of them.
The online resources in our recommendations make the college selection process less overwhelming and more satisfying, not to mention tha it can result in a more informed choice in a college or university.
Deciding which college to attend is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a student. Factors such as cost, location, and reputation will play a major part in where you will ultimately spend the next four to six years of your life. But with so many college websites out there, how can you be sure that you’re getting the best information and the most accurate college rankings?
Well, you can start with our look at the best college search tools. Each of these online resources is designed to refine, improve, and ease your college selection process.
If you would rather start your college search with a look at the top schools, you can jump directly to our list of the best colleges and universities in the U.S., or check out the best online colleges this year.
The Best College Search Tools
When you want to compare colleges and universities, College Navigator is among the best college search tools because of the reliable data in its database. This is an online website and tool administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and designed to aid prospective college students and their families to compare public and private schools across the U.S.
College Navigator has the following features that make it easier and faster for prospective college students to compare colleges.
- Basic information about the institution (e.g., location, size and type, and accreditation)
- Academic programs and majors
- Admission statistics, requirements, and acceptance rates including SAT/ACT scores
- Cost of attendance and student aid information
- Retention and graduation rates
- Campus life, campus safety and security, and housing
- Student life and demographics
- Faculty information
- Interactive maps
The data provided in College Navigator comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), thus, its reliability.
Prospective college students who want to compare colleges for both bachelor’s and associate degree programs, even certificate programs, will find College Scorecard an excellent college search tool, too. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, whose hallmark is finding reliable data about colleges and universities, thanks to its emphasis on accountability and transparency among higher education institutions.
The notable college search features in College Scorecard are:
- Basic information (location and size, type, accreditation, and student body diversity)
- Academic programs and majors
- Acceptance rate and admissions process and requirements including range of standardized test scores
- Cost and financial aid including the average annual cost for a particular school, the types of aid and the percentage of students receiving them
- Average student loan debt and repayment rate
- Retention and graduation rates
- Median earnings after graduation
College Scorecard allows users to use filters in comparing colleges and universities, too, with criteria based on their unique needs and wants.
Offered by Academic Influence, Custom College Ranking is among the best college search tools because it evaluates colleges and universities based on the influence of its faculty and alumni on their fields of expertise and on public consciousness. This is unlike most traditional college rankings with a heavy reliance on self-reported data by colleges and universities.
The result is that rankings of the best schools reward the same institutions year after year! Furthermore, unlike most college search sites, Academic Influence uses Wikipedia and Crossref for its metrics because these are more objective than self-reported institutional data.
The Custom College Ranking tool offers every user a personalized list of colleges and universities based on the factors that matter most to them. The site also offers written summaries of a wide range of institutions, from the big names like MIT to lesser-known institutions that are exceptional, nonetheless, in their niche. Even Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that historically have received less attention are featured.
Known for its educational services, Princeton Review is best known for its wide range of test preparation and tutoring services for prospective college students. The standardized tests include SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, MCAT and LSAT, among others, and Princeton Review provides interested individuals with study materials, test preparation courses, and practice exams.
Furthermore, Princeton Review offers an effective and efficient college search tool and college rankings through its annual “The Best Colleges” rankings using different criteria. This is a comprehensive college guidebook with information about colleges and universities based on student reviews, surveys, and feedback.
Princeton Review also has a dedicated college search engine that allows students to search for colleges based on various criteria. There are also college profiles and a college comparison tool for students comparing schools based on their preferences.
In terms of worldwide influence, U.S. News & World Report is among the most-cited sources of information about education, business, and healthcare in the United States. Prospective college students and their families can use its rankings on the best colleges to get information about public and private universities, as well as to make college comparisons.
The U.S. News College Compass feature is its most useful in terms of college comparisons. This is a premium subscription service that provides individuals with in-depth information and analysis of public and private schools.
Check out the college search and college comparison features, too, when you’re considering several schools in your search for the best school for your bachelor’s or associate degree.
With more than 6,000 colleges and universities featured, Niche.com offers a wide range of reliable data, reviews, and insights that contribute to informed decision-making among prospective college students and their families. The Niche College Compare Tool allows users to compare up to four schools at a time based on their selected factors, such as acceptance rate, test scores, and net price.
Individuals can then make a list of schools that meet their selected criteria and get in-depth information through the Niche Profile feature. Visitors can also take the College Quiz that will identify their college preferences and result in a personalized college list based on these preferences.
Niche.com also features first-hand college and university reviews from actual college students and alumni regarding the different aspects of campus and student life, admissions, and academics, among others.
Every year, the College Board aids prospective college students in preparing for their transition into college life and achieve academic success in college. The non-profit organization provides high school students and their families with useful resources and services, including college admissions support, as well as promoting higher education through research and advocacy.
Of course, the College Board is known for its role in the administration of standardized tests used in Advanced Placement courses and college admissions processes. These include:
- Advanced Placement (AP) program
- Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)
- SAT Subject Tests
- College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)
- Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)
The College Board also administers the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, a financial aid application to determine eligibility for non-federal aid.
This is a unique online resource that prospective college students can use as a college search tool and to compare colleges. College Insight provides users with reliable data taken directly from sources as reported (e.g., IPEDS) and from calculated data. Users can compare schools based on several criteria including:
- Institutional characteristics (e.g. location, website address, and identification codes as displayed on the Explorer and Spotlight tools)
- Cost of attendance based on IPEDS reported data
- Number of enrolled students and student body diversity
- Financial aid and student debt information
- Freshman retention rate and graduation rate
- Earnings and repayment
While the information isn’t a ticket to your dream school, it will provide insights into what you can do to get into your preferred school.
Prospective college students take a “fit test” that will determine their college preferences that will be used as a basis to see if they are a good match with certain schools. Cappex is unique among college search tools because of its social media-like features, user-friendly and intuitive interface, and useful resources.
Among the useful features that prospective college students can use are:
- College Match, which uses a proprietary algorithm that contributes to a more personalized college search process
- College Search, which allows searching for colleges based on specified criteria like size and location, academic majors, and extracurricular activities
- Scholarship Search, which narrows down the types of financial aid for which prospective college students may be eligible
- Application Assistance, which offers guidance and resources about the college application process
A respected publisher and provider of academic and career resources, Peterson’s is well-known for its satisfactory college matches as an online college search website. Among its key offerings are:
- Test preparation materials for standardized tests like ACT, SAT, and GMAT
- College and graduate school search including information about academic programs, admissions requirements, and financial aid
- Scholarship information contained in databases and searchable using search tools
- Career services including career assessment tools, resume writing, and interview preparation as well as information about career paths and career planning
Like many of the college search sites featured here, Unigo provides prospective college students and their families with useful information about school profiles, cost of attendance, and financial aid. But it has a distinguishing feature that sets it apart—reviews submitted by current and former students. With more than 650,000 college reviews, it’s a reliable site for first-hand student experiences including the campus and student life in colleges and universities across the U.S.
Unigo also features college rankings based on a wide range of criteria, such as academic programs, campus life, and versatility. There’s also in-depth scholarship and financial aid information, as well as college search tools and planning resources. The student Q&A feature allows visitors to ask questions and get answers from current college students and experts on relevant topics.
Chegg’s respected reputation is primarily based on its excellent textbook rental service, but it now offers a wide range of educational services for prospective and current college students. Among its noteworthy services are the study resources that include study guides, textbook solutions, and expert Q&A, as well as online tutoring services, writing assistance, and test preparation. There’s even an internship and job search feature.
In terms of college search and comparison, Chegg has a college search tool that allows users to filter and search for schools based on their preferred criteria. There are also detailed college profiles, a cost calculator, and scholarship information.
As an online platform with an extensive online community, College Confidential is known for its focus on the college admissions process including student-centered discussions and information-sharing. Students and their families as well as educators use College Confidential as a safe platform for discussing college admissions, college life, and other aspects of college education.
As an online community, its users can participate in forums and discussions, ask questions and give answers, and share their experiences and insights on a wide range of topics. Choosing the best colleges and universities, navigating the college applications process, and overcoming the challenges of college life are among these topics.
College planning can be challenging but College Raptor makes it easier for newbies! Considered to be among the most comprehensive college search websites, College Raptor is unique among its competitors in that it enables prospective college students and their families to search for the best schools based on their acceptance odds, academic match, and personalized estimates for financial aid.
Site visitors input their unique educational and financial information, such as test scores and academic performance, and then receive a personalized list of colleges that can make a good match. There’s also a net price calculator and a scholarship search feature, as well as a tool for calculating admissions chances based on the profile of accepted students.
CollegeXpress also provides information about possible good matches between prospective college students and public and private schools. This is achieved through the college search feature that allows site visitors to search for schools based on specific criteria, mainly factors that align with their academic and career goals.
There are also college profiles, college rankings and reviews, and a financial aid and scholarship search feature. Prospective college students can also engage in virtual campus tours, gain insights from the advice-laden articles, and get a head start on the college application process through useful tools.
Leverage the Best College Search Sites
Of course, college search tools are just that—tools! You must leverage them so that you can take full advantage of their features and enjoy a smoother transition into college life. Here are tips for doing so.
Start as early as possible.
You should consider conducting a college search during your junior year of high school. You will then have ample time to research the best schools and making an informed decision. You should also ask your parents for assistance and guidance since they, too, have their share of personal experiences with the college applications process and college life.
Know your priorities first.
Ask yourself, “What are the factors that are most important about getting a college education?” You should list and be specific in your priorities. Think about the location, size and type, academic programs and reputation, cost of attendance and net price, and campus life and culture. When you know what you need and want in a school, you can narrow down your options.
Use multiple sources.
You shouldn’t use just one college search tool because it won’t provide comprehensive information about your dream schools. You should also look into the official college websites, read independent student ratings and ask former and current college students, and make campus visits. You should also consider attending information sessions, college fairs, and virtual events for more information.
Most importantly, keep an open mind about the college search process! You may already have a dream school in mind but you may be surprised about the recommended colleges for your specific preferences.
The college admissions process can be stressful. We have some important tips on how to manage the stress of the online college application process.
Another great way to look for colleges and universities is to search based on geography. Take advantage of in-state tuition discounts whether you are attending a local college online or in person by starting your search with the best schools in your state.
See our Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process for more.
Or jump to our student resource library for tips on everything from studying to starting on your career path.