The One Resource You Need To “Navigate” Choosing A College

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Bowdoin campus in winter

A campus tour won’t tell you everything you need to know about a school (except how cold it gets! No tours in the winter, folks).

It’s October, and here in New England, the telltale signs of autumn have arrived: leaves are changing, apples are being picked, and of course, students are freaking out about which college to attend.

OK, that last one happens all across the country.


Whether you’re in high school or at a community college or 4-year school and considering transferring, starting your school search can feel overwhelming. Luckily, you can turn to the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator to put you on the right track.

Here’s how this resource can help you make an educated decision, i.e., one not based on how pretty a campus looks.

So Many Search Options

If you are looking for schools that meet specific needs, the College Navigator is the perfect place to search. It has more filters than you may know what to do with: location, degrees, types of programs, tuition, housing, setting, selectivity, test scores, sports (the list goes on). You can be as specific (or not) as you want.

The various search options will help you figure out schools to consider and apply to. You may even find colleges that fit the bill that you never would have thought of otherwise.

It Can Get You Organized

The College Navigator does more than just search through your preferences for college matches; it also allows you to build lists using the “My Favorites” tool.

In addition, you can save your search results, favorites, and lists, so you can return as often as you like to analyze your choices. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done search. Take your time, and really consider where you may want to go to college.

Even better? You can also export your search results to Excel spreadsheets. For organization nuts like Monica (OK, and maybe me), this is awesome!

Find Out College Vitals

The College Navigator has a wealth of information that’s more objective than your campus tour guide might be, as it lists each school’s vitals—all of them.

  • Is student success important to you? You can compare retention, graduation, and cohort default rates.
  • How do the schools measure up cost wise? Find tuition, financial aid, and net-price information to see how students fare financially at each school.
  • Is mom worried about how safe you’ll be? You can even view school crime statistics from the last 3 reported years.

Most importantly, you can consider your top choices against each other to see which one really meets all of your needs the best or can come the closest to your ideal school.


While statistics are important in thinking through an investment as big as higher education, don’t dismiss your overall feeling about the school either. Being comfortable in the culture and location the school is in are just as important as the hard numbers are.

In the end, your gut may turn out to be the best evaluation tool you have, but you do have the Navigator to help you narrow down the choices. So, what are you waiting for?

Have you used the College Navigator? Tell us about your experiences. 

(Photo: Gwyn Fisher)

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