04/25/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

Google Search Is a Teen's "Best Friend" When Looking for College Admissions Information

The City of San Diego Public Library system is at the forefront in California, if not the U.S., in providing information and resources about college admissions for underserved, first-generation, high school students. Eleven libraries in low-income areas now offer special collections that contain the most helpful college admissions books, and computers bookmarked with some of the "best," most frequently used college admissions links. In addition, the La Jolla branch has a separate College Admissions Room, stocked with books and other resources for students and parents.

Twice a year, the San Diego Library system offers Admit One programs at the Malcolm X (fall) and Barrio Logan (spring) branches, i.e., ten free, hands-on sessions that cover critical college admissions information. Topics include test preparation (by CAL-SOAP), practice SAT and ACT tests (by Princeton Review), applying for financial aid (by Lynn O'Shaughnessy), choosing colleges, identifying special extracurricular activities, completing applications (by me) and a mini-college fair (by local colleges).

"Google is my best friend."

To about 100 students and parents, I recently gave a talk at Admit One on "How to Get Started with the College Admissions Process." In addition, a panel of recent college applicants told audience members about their successful admissions experiences. One theme that emerged over and over was their extensive use of Google Search to locate information about extracurricular activities, scholarships, summer internships, college programs for minority students, special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs for girls and other opportunities. One student said, "When it comes to finding what I need in college admissions, Google is my best friend."

These wise words need to be taken very seriously. While many students and parents use the Internet and Google searches every day, many don't realize what a powerful college admissions tool Google can be. What's more, it is immediately available and free! Here are some ways of taking advantage of this amazing resource.

5 steps to making good use of Google Search

1. Make sure that you have access to a working computer with good Internet service. If you (or your family) don't have this, ask to use a relative's or friend's computer or see about using one at your school or local public library, where they are usually available at no cost, in good operating condition and with reliable, high speed Internet access.

2. Go to the Search Google space at the top of the computer. Type in search words/phrases or real questions about information you want about college admissions.

Here are examples of search words and questions:

Getting Ready for College Admissions

  • High school courses and grades ("How do I choose the right high school courses to get into college?")
  • Extracurricular activities ("What activities impress college admissions officers?" Note: I think you will be surprised by the answer, "Do what you love!") You can also get more specific by identifying your home town, e.g., "Volunteer opportunities for teens in Denver" -- or whatever your city or town is. Another is "Find summer or paid or science internships for high school students in San Diego" -- or whatever your city or town is.
  • College admissions tests ("Should I take the SAT or ACT?" "What is the best test prep for the SAT/ACT tests?" "How many Subject Tests do I need to take?")
  • Financial aid for college, FAFSA and PROFILE ("When should I start applying for financial aid? "What are merit scholarships?")

Finding Colleges You'll Love

  • College searches ("Where can I go to develop a college list?" "What is a college search?")
  • Visiting colleges ("Should I visit colleges? "How do I find out about 'fly-in' programs for low income students?")
  • Virtual tours of colleges? ("How can I find out about colleges if I can't actually visit them?")

Completing Your College Applications

  • Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED) ("Who should apply EA or ED?")
  • Completing college applications ("What should I say on my college applications?")
  • Writing college essays ("What should I write about in my college application essays" Sample college application essays.)
  • Letters of recommendation in college admissions ("Who should write my recommendation letters for college?")
  • College Admissions Interviews ("How important are admissions college interviews?")

3. After you have typed your words or questions onto the Google Search space, a list of links and descriptions will come up. Read the results and click on those that seem most relevant to you. Then scroll down to the end of the page, where Google offers a number of key words and phrases that may lead you to other links on the topic you're researching.

4. Keep trying out words and/or questions until you get the answers you need or want.

5. If you don't seem to be getting what you want, Google has a site that offers advanced search help.

Regardless of their background -- low-, middle- or high-income -- students need to identify admissions resources. Some schools have college admissions counselors, although because of budget cuts that service seems to be less and less available at many urban and rural public high schools. The Admit One panelists consistently cited teachers as among their best sources of information and advice, especially when the students took the time to get to know them and do their best in classes.

Other resources Admit One panelists identified were 1) parents, grandparents and other family members, 2) past students from their schools who were already in college, 3) various organizations that provide college counseling and advice such as Reality Changers, AVID, Barrio Logan College Institute and C5Youth programs, 4) independent educational consultants who offer pro-bono counseling, college admissions offices (if you ask to be put on their mailing lists, you will start receiving mailings), 5) college fairs and 6) special community programs such as the San Diego Library Admit One program.

There is a huge amount of college admissions resources on the Internet and "out there" in the world. Your job is to find the right ones for you or to help them find you.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, I have no affiliation with Google. As I said above, I was so taken by student panelists invoking Google as their major information source, I decided to write a blog about it.