I don't know about you, but it's pretty rare these days that I commit to something -- a new product, a meal, a night out -- without reading the online reviews first.
Yelp, Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes...you name it. We rely on others' intel for just about everything we do, before we do it.
So why should researching colleges be any different?
When I get my students started on their research, I suggest three main resources: the Fiske Guide, the colleges' own websites and course catalogs, and online reviews from current and past students.
Here are my three go-to sites for reviews:
Cappex: at-a-glance report card
Cappex is handy for a single snapshot of what the college is all about. Different aspects of the college experience appear as categories on the left-hand side and are rated on a scale of 1 - 5 stars, then paired with brief comments on the right side.
Scroll down on the left-hand side to the "Student Reviews" link. You'll need a free account to see them all.
Niche: apply your filters
The Niche website got a recent overhaul that is now shaping up to be one of the more visually appealing and user-friendly experiences for college research. They administer polls that gather information about different aspects of the student experience, and then allow readers to filter by category. You can read through all the respondents' perspectives on things like academics, housing, food, and even party scene.
They also rank on a scale of 1 - 5 stars. Just search your college and click on "Reviews" at the bottom of the left-hand column.
Unigo: Q & A style
My longtime favorite review site, Unigo publishes a section where current and past students answer questions that push to differentiate their college and particularly the student body. If you want to know what the perceptions are of the types of people who attend, look no further!
To access the Most-Answered Questions, scroll down on the college's Unigo page past the average ratings and Recent Reviews. Near the bottom of the page, you'll find a field that looks like this:
As with all online reviews, I always suggest taking them with a grain of salt. We are all familiar with the occasional reviewer who posted out of rage or disappointment over a bad experience.
The key is to skim through as many reviews as possible, looking for the ones that are most substantive, detailed, and unbiased as possible. The recurring themes that pop up across a range of reviews are where you will get the most reliable information. There are also some skilled writers on these sites who provide very nuanced descriptions -- often with some humor.