Secret Search Confessions: From a Prospective College Student

NOTE: This has been published anonymously to protect the author’s identity.

I’m currently a high school junior and applying to and attending a top college is a really big deal to me. As for what I want to study, I’m really interested in a few fields including Economics and Applied Math. Not to brag, but I’m currently second in my class and I recently scored a 34 on my ACT, so I’m in a pretty good position to be admitted to most schools I’m interested in.

Eyes on the prize

Some universities must agree because it seems like everyday I get an email or postcard from a college with a picture of a pristine building and happy students in front of it. Mail is great and everything, but I hardly ever follow up with these schools that send me hard copies of information. I already know where I want to go; it’s really just a matter of comparing the pros and cons of those schools.

Since I know what I want, research is key. I’m already considering a few state universities with over 30K students as well as some smaller, private schools with less than 10K. While I’m trying to get advice from friends, family, and mentors on how these college experiences vary, I’m also doing a lot of research on my own. Only problem is, I keep running into this one issue: finding information on these university websites is a nightmare.

In fact, it’s so difficult that I actually sometimes use Google to search the website by using the Google site command like this: site:college.edu school mascot.

The nagging content discovery problem: aka why I can’t find anything

So, I’m relatively sure it’s not that these schools don’t have the information I’m looking for on their website. It seems like they actually have more than enough content and if I kept digging, I’m sure I’d eventually be able to find what I was looking for. It just seems to take FOREVER. For example, if I want to navigate to find information about student clubs or freshman living options on a college’s website, I almost always have to click around 3–4 times, on multiple pages before I find even remotely the right answers.

When I opt to use the in-site search bar instead, it just typically returns a slew of random results and I have to scroll down and sift through to even begin to find what I’m looking for. I feel like I should be able to search for what I’m looking for and find it at the top of the results. Just like that.

This bad search stuff is annoying and in general, I usually don’t mind digging around. But there is some information that I can’t take a chance on. Some details I need to find quickly and just needs to be absolutely accurate.

Paying for college is why this matters

Although I’ve done well in high school and should (hopefully) be eligible for some substantial scholarships, I have to cover the bulk of my college expenses. I’m one of four in a middle-class family and college has become so expensive that my parents can’t cover tuition for me and all my siblings. Given my circumstances, I need to know the complete and accurate ins and outs of need-based financial aid packages as well as merit-based scholarships.

Although I can mostly piece together the information by browsing a college’s website, it would be much easier if I could enter “need-based financial aid” or “scholarship types” into the search box and know that I’ll get uber-relevant results returned. I know that schools give out nice packets with this information when you visit the campus but:

(a) these packets typically have a lot of fluff and you can’t search over physical documents
(b) I can’t visit all the schools I’m interested in

This is information is crucial for me. When I do find a seemingly relevant scholarship page on a school’s website, I need to make sure it’s the right one for my academic and financial qualifications.

To sum it up: In an age when basically all prospective college students are going to use their own research on university websites to potentially decide wether to apply, enroll, and attend, it seems like schools would make the investment to make it as easy as possible for students to find exactly what they need. But what do I know. I’m just the future.


Upgrade your website search

Want to upgrade your website’s search and help people like Spencer find what they’re looking for? Join the University of Washington, Texas A&M, Duke, NYU and others in utilizing Swiftype Search to help their website visitors quickly find what they’re looking for.

Get Started with Swiftype


Originally published at blog.swiftype.com on September 27, 2017.

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