Please consider centralizing college information

October 16, 2020 — by Justin Guo

For what feels like the 17th time today, I find myself back on Occidental College’s website. 

What am I doing? I’m not even sure. I’m trying to “research” the college, which I’ve quickly learned means going on their website, clicking through a handful of web pages filled with surely candid photos of various smiling students of color, getting discouraged and subsequently giving up.

It’s not just Occidental; it feels like every single college website spews the same generic information about their perpetual mission to further students’ intellectual curiosities within a tight-knit, diverse community while grooming us into renowned leaders of the next generation. Honestly, I’m amazed that they’ve all been able to convey very similar themes without using the exact same words.

I know that I’m not alone in this complaint; there’s a widespread sense among the seniors that it feels difficult to get a comprehensive grasp on the identity, values and overall campus culture of a particular college unless you are prepared to invest in a bunch of time reading and learning everything about it. This is exacerbated by the fact that we overachieving Saratoga students tend to apply to over a dozen schools, so our effort is necessarily spread thin.

The answer to our woes is supposed to be Naviance, but the broad consensus is that Naviance isn’t that helpful. 

Like, thanks, I can look at a scattergram and question my self-worth after seeing that someone with a 1600 SAT score and 4.9 GPA got rejected from a school I want to apply to. But besides that, the software feels like a glorified Google search; it gives the same information. 

Right now, the best substitutes for researching campus culture or particular college strengths are sites like Niche, College Confidential and Reddit — or any platform that allows people to talk candidly about schools and their experiences there.

Sure, there are problems with these sites, but they’re better than nothing. Even if it tells you just one student’s experience, it’s personal, and it’s real. Maybe the review is exaggerated, or biased toward (or vehemently against) the school, but it gives you a better idea of what the school culture is like. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction. 

Still, we can take another step forward. 

I propose a centralized location for college information; it could be hosted independently, or more preferably, by a site like College Board. The site would provide explicit and succinct information for prospective students, such as a school’s most notable programs, and allow anonymous student reviews or discussion threads to encourage transparency and honest communication. 

While the system obviously isn’t perfect — you’d be condensing a multifaceted college into a few bullet points, and it’s not clear who decides what goes on it — I still think that it’s worth a shot; it’s a problem that my parents can communicate the strong points of a college better than their website itself. 

The counter argument is that providing centralized information would diminish the genuineness of those who would have spent more time organically looking for that information. 

However, it’s not as if giving students a sense of the notable strengths of a college deprives them of being able to demonstrate interest; that interest would be adequately shown through supplemental essays and interviews, as students would still have to dig through the website for additional details.

So let’s stop beating around the bush and help out struggling students by providing them valuable, specific college information upfront. It will make the overall process a lot simpler, direct, and less time consuming.

 

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Junior Daniel Jiang prepares to make a goal during an after school water polo practice at SHS's swimming pool on Sept. 16. Photo by Selina Chen

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