Picking the right college is a huge decision for students and families; for that reason, we think it’s important for students to know where to turn for credible information about the schools they’re considering.

When evaluating schools using a third-party website, use the industry vetted-sites like College Navigator, College Board, or Zinch and Cappex. These sites use federal data for their college profiles and they disclose their methodology and their data sources clearly. Additionally, these sites focus only on college rankings and higher education news. 

College rankings that appear on entertainment sites – publishers who share celebrity news, gossip and fashion trends – are developed to entice readers to click on the story. These rankings typically use outdated data and often inflate overall tuition expenses and student-loan burdens in an effort to attract more readers.

When using a third-party site, it is important review the methodology. Does the site tell you from where it pulled its data? Are the data sources and the metrics being used in the rankings consistent? How recent is the data? If the methodology is unclear or entirely absent and/or the data significantly out-of-date, this is not a reliable source.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even reputable sites like the ones mentioned above are using data that is a couple of years behind. These sites are most valuable for gathering basic information and knowing what questions to ask when you visit campus.

Which brings us to our most valuable piece of advice: Talk with your admissions counselor. Even the best third-party sites are operating on data that are several years old due to the nature of college reporting. Your counselor will be able to answer your questions about incoming class sizes, financial aid packages, and graduation rates and outcomes with recent data. Admissions counselors and financial aid officers will also walk families through the actual cost of enrollment.