College Research & Planning



Consider what you want in a post-secondary school, and discuss these things with your parents and counselor.  You want to find a “good fit”. There are many considerations:

  • What do you want to study? If you don’t know, don’t panic. Undecided is a very popular initial major.

  • What kind of environment do you want/need? This includes the size of the city/town and the geographic location of the city/town, as well as diversity of the student body and available experiences.

  • What kind of school is best for you and will support your career and post-undergrad goals? 2-year, 4-year, Vocational, Technical? Coed, serving a special population such as single sex or Historically Black Colleges?

  • What size school is best for you? Would you do better in smaller classes?

  • What student profile is close to your own? Is this college a good fit for you academically? Look at the mid 50% for both GPA and test scores, but remember that these are just two data points. Many colleges review holistically and there is more to you than just a number! Think about your transcript when you think academically.

  • What do you want in a school culture? Do you want collaborative learners, do you want a flexible curriculum, etc. Think also about the extra curricular activities on campus - volunteering, athletics, etc.?

    • Although cost should not be a primary consideration for initial searching, it will have to be considered once college and scholarship offers have been made. If cost is a prohibitor, are you able to access federal financial aid, institutional aid, or merit-based scholarships? Is the school you are hoping to attend able to give merit aid? Is it able to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?

Search engines can help discover post-secondary schools that meet your criteria. Some are listed below. All search engines will have some out-of-date data. Always check with the post-secondary school’s website for the most current information as you add a school to your list of prospective applications.


Naviance Student should be the first stop for college planning! 

  • College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics

    • Contains detailed information to help students and families compare college data - from retention rates, financial aid, demographics,crime statistics, and admissions data. Students can search by school name, program, location, and institution size/type. There are additional links and resources for post-secondary planning, as well as information

  • College Scorecard

    • Allows students to search for schools by region, type, degree, and public/private affiliation. Contains data on graduation rate, salary after attending, cost, financial aid, popular programs, etc.

  • Campus Security information from the US Department of Ed

  • Accreditation information from the US Department of Ed 

  • Council for Higher Education
  • FairTest

    • The National Center for Fair & Open Testing provides lists of colleges that are test optional.

  • State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV)

    • Information on higher education in Virginia, including out-of-state programs that qualify for instate tuition via the Academic Common Market.

    • Search: The Academic Common Market for  In-State Tuition for Select Out-of-State Programs.


American College Foundation has some great overview information on the college process, what colleges are looking for, and also sponsors a scholarship open to students of all grade levels.


Researching colleges is an important step to the college process. There are many resources - from books to websites - that can help you do this. Naviance Student should be your go-to, as you are able to save colleges to your favorites, and get connected to the representatives from schools, as well as work with your counselor. Below are additional resources that will help students to find their right fit. Many of these sites have questionnaires to help you find schools. The sites differ in the type of information reported - ie. rankings, student reviews, etc. Some of these sites also have scholarship search engines. 


Make sure to check out the books and resources in the Oakton Career Center and the Oakton library too! There are many great resources on the college admissions process, as well as books highlighting each college.

  • National Association of College Admissions Counselors

    • Although this website is geared more towards professionals in the secondary and post-secondary world, there are resources available to families on the site as well. Check out the Advocacy & Ethics and Knowledge Center for information on preparing for, paying for, and succeeding in college.



  • National Collegiate Athletic Association

    • Qualifiers to play collegiate sports, rules, and eligibility, and educational outreach.



  • The Dream Project empowers students in Northern Virginia whose immigration status creates barriers to education through mentoring and scholarships.

  • Mason Dreamers is a foundation at George Mason dedicated to supporting undocumented students through education and advocacy. Website includes resources and scholarships for students (regardless of whether attending GMU)

  • The Dream partners with colleges to provide scholarships to highly qualified undocumented students who dream of attending college.

  • Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute offers training, mentorship, programs, and scholarships for Latino students.

  • College Greenlight offers information on college research, scholarships and more. Here is a blog for undocumented students.


ZeeMee is an online resume/profile you can share with colleges! You can even add it onto your Common App! Check it out- this is a great way to SHOW who you are.

Check out the free resources on The College Essay Guy website to help you find your voice.


Thoughtful blog article to help you make the decision on whether to study abroad


Interested in studying abroad/participating in an exchange program while in high school?

Do your research on programs, as well as be on top of your graduation requirements.

Work closely with your counselor!

Check out the various State Department opportunities. These include specific site locations as well as scholarships!


See FCPS’s site on short-term and summer programs.


Check out:



Summer programs:


Oxford Bridge


Know that there are often programs offered by specific colleges for first-semester opportunities. Look into these as well!

Back to OHS Career Center