With the abundance of college related websites available, it can be hard to know which are trusted sources of information. While many sites do exist to provide free, accurate, objective information, there are plenty of others that have alternative objectives. Called “lead generators,” the main purpose of these sites is to collect your personal contact information, which is then sold to third parties that pay for this information. During your college search, I recommend that you steer clear of “lead generator” sites!
Questionable ethics aside, these sites can’t always be trusted to provide unbiased information. (Although many of them do make efforts to be accurate.) Furthermore, once your personal contact information is collected and sold, you will begin to receive emails. And more emails. And mailings. And more mailings, from colleges and programs all over the country, many of which you have no recollection of ever contacting. I like to call this phenomena the “College Mail Explosion.”
So how do you know which sites are “lead generators” and which are not?
Are you required to register or enter contact information?
If you are required to enter personal information such as email, address and phone number before entering the site, be cautious. Always check to see how a site will use this information.
Does the site have ads?
Whoever placed these ads is paying for that privilege, and this often means that the site exists more for the purpose of profit than information. It’s also a good indicator that the colleges or programs that placed those ads will get your contact information.
Does the site focus on online or for-profit colleges?
If the most prominent schools on the site are for-profit colleges, then I recommend avoiding it.
A trusted site might say something like this:
“Our policy is simple: We collect no personal information about you unless you choose to provide that information to us. We do not give, share, sell, or transfer any information to a third party.”
A lead generator site will read more like this:
”We may use information that we have collected, including selling or transferring such information at any time to third parties so that they can contact you and offer you products and/or services. This may include email advertising and telephone marketing.”
”By providing personal information when using this site you are entering into a business relationship and are consenting to being contacted by our third party partners…”
Some sites are a mix – they give some content for free, but require you to register in order to access other (often more valuable) content. Unigo, College Xpress and Niche College Prowler are examples of such sites. If you do decide to sign up for these, be sure you are able to “opt-out” of being contacted by their partner colleges. You won’t receive any spam, but you should still remain somewhat skeptical of the neutrality and accuracy of the site.
Here are my two favorite sites for accurate, unbiased college data:
College Navigator: Operated by the US Department of Education, this is probably the most trusted information out there. And, it’s completely free.
Big Future: Operated by the College Board, Big Futures tends to be more visually accessible, especially to students. No registration is required (because the College Board will know everything about you when it’s time to take the SAT!)