Phone apps for college-bound kids

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Spring break week!

Thursday: Local activities for the family

Friday: A tour of the new “Indiana Jones” museum exhibit

Saturday: Zip-line adventures in East Texas

Monday: Great reads to pack in your carry-on

Today: Digital apps for help with college prep

Thursday: Projects for craft-minded kids

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

A look that’s common to teens (typical and otherwise) is almost universally recognizable these days: necks craned downward, eyes glued to a smartphone. Funny Vine videos, addictive games, social media feeds and constant text conversations capture their attention for hours on end.

Fortunately for the college-bound set, several app developers may have found a way to make the touch-screen-addicted generation use its screen time more productively.

Kristin Vaughn, director of college counseling at Fort Worth Country Day, says there’s value in college search technology, as websites or apps often give students that important first glimpse at a school. Of course, she adds, they are no substitute for actually visiting a college campus and asking, “Do I fit here?”

“You have to go to have a chance to see it firsthand,” she says. “A lot of students will receive materials and electronic messaging coming to students, encouraging them to go to the website. But it doesn’t compare to actually being there.”

For that important first look, however, on online introduction can be invaluable in terms of gathering information and narrowing the field. So if you don’t have a slew of campus tours scheduled for spring break, encourage your favorite student to use some of thosecarefree days and screen-time hours to “visit” schools electronically.

We’ve assembled a list of 10 apps that are geared toward helping high school students navigate the college search, application and acceptance process. (And next time you’re tempted to roll your eyes at your phone-obsessed teen, why not imagine that he or she might be studying SAT vocabulary?)

1. Scholly: This scholarship-seeking app was founded by Christopher Gray, dubbed the “million dollar scholar” after be awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships.

Aimed at making college-funding opportunities more accessible and searchable for students, Scholly uses eight search criteria, including location, GPA, major and miscellaneous factors, to match students with scholarships that are sorted by dollar amount and deadline.

Students are then linked to scholarship websites that explain application details, and they can easily save opportunities to browse later or even add deadlines straight to their calendars. 99 cents.

2. Peterson’s College Search: The Peterson’s app provides the basics for students just starting the college search.

Allowing students to search by university name, this app is great for discovering new schools with its three-pronged search approach: state, educational focus and cost. Its “surprise me” function may lead students to schools they had never previously considered.

Once a student lands on a college, the basic information is all there, though some profiles are more complete than others. Students get a brief overview of the degrees offered, the application fee, majors, tuition, average test scores, sports offered and more. Free.

3. CollegeSearch: Another helpful browsing tool, it gives a basic overview of universities around the country.

Offering data like student-to-faculty ratios, gender breakdown, and four- and six-year graduation rates, CollegeSearch also covers the nuts and bolts of tuition, room and board, and entering-class test scores. The handy search function allows students to limit results based on a number of factors, such as public or private, cost, enrollment, test scores and even campus setting.

A student can use the College Search app filters to look for things as specific as public schools in urban settings with fewer than 10,000 students. Free.

4. Kaplan SAT Quiz U: This SAT prep app allows students to squeeze in valuable study sessions with its timed mini quizzes.

Broken down into sections of math, reading and writing, Kaplan SAT Quiz U truly simulates a testing situation — it’s draw, text and table functions allow you to work out math or keep notes in the margins, and the in-app calculator makes it easy to take a quiz anywhere.

When students are done with a quiz, they can review correct and incorrect answers with verbal instructions and explanations from the virtual teacher. Free (99 cents for select quizzes, and $9.99 for full access).

5. ACT Student: Powered by the same organization that administers the college readiness exam, this app offers students a great study tool for the ACT.

The “practice” section of the ACT Student app allows you to pick a section — English, math, reading or science — and answer sample questions. And you don’t have to wait to see if you’re right. The app immediately tells you if you’re incorrect and redirects you to the question. When you select the correct answer, a longer explanation is provided.

For students who have already taken the test, the “account” section offers registration and score information. Free.

6. Max U: More than a helpful search tool, Max U is an educational to-do list.

This app takes students through each thinking-about-a-college consideration— explaining costs; suggesting ways to save; preparing for applications; applying; comparing options; and making a final decision.

While the app does tend to send students to third-party sites via links throughout the process, the information contained within is well worth browsing. Free.

7. Student Bank Loan Calculator: This fairly basic app offers a great start for students looking to better understand how to finance a college education.

Allowing users to input a loan amount, annual interest, a payback term and frequency, Student Bank Loan Calculator quickly calculates the payment, number of payments, interest accrual and total repaid amount.

While students may not know their exact loan amounts and payment schedules, the app gives great insight into what often seems a very abstract concept. Free.

8. College Confidential: This huge network of college-bound students connecting on the Web now has an app.

Standing out for its forum function, College Confidential sections range from “What are my chances?” to “Ivy League” and “Parents Forum,” inspiring endless discussions about college. Students connect on everything, from lamenting missteps on an “If I could change one thing about my application” thread to offering advice on a “Should I retake the SAT?” thread. There is a wealth of user-generated content, however, which means students should be cautious because it’s easy to get lost in misinformation or speculation. Free.

9. SAT Vocab: This app provides a very simple and fun way to study vocabulary on the go.

Students give themselves quick, 10-question quizzes with SAT Vocab and flip through flashcards in their spare time. After a few rounds, the app also allows students to filter their flashcards to “never quizzed” or “answered poorly,” which offers the opportunity for learning by repetition. Free.

10. Individual university apps: Go directly to the source.

As students start to narrow down their options, it’s important to consider everything about a school. Many universities have an app, or in some cases, several, of their own. From athletics to student media, alumni to campus maps, there’s plenty to search through to better understand the student experience at a particular school. Free.

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