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Report Explores How Technology Is, and Isn't, Aiding in College Searches

Mobile apps and websites marketed as helping college-bound students have mixed success in guiding them through the application process, new research shows.

Get Schooled, a nonprofit organization that promotes educational attainment for young people, released a report on technology and college access Thursday. The researchers, funded by the Kresge Foundation, analyzed hundreds of digital tools targeting high school students and discovered shortcomings in the services.

Although experts increasingly emphasize the need for early preparation, most websites center around the college-application and financial-planning process for high school juniors and seniors, the report found.

Also, sites only offered assistance with one aspect of the college application process. Those that were more comprehensive, such as College Greenlight or Naviance, required a school-based subscription or adult guidance.

"While there are hundreds of educational tools available on the Internet, there is no 'go-to' site that incorporates all the different milestones necessary to help students prepare for and complete the college application process," the report found.

The researchers noted there are a glut of web-based tools available to help students find the right college match, apply for scholarships, and complete college applications. However, the quality is uneven and some are mainly intended to provide leads to for-profit or less-selective nonprofit universities as they recruit applicants. Few sites do a good job at explaining the financial aid space in an easy-to-understand way, the report concludes.

There are some well-designed sites, but often students aren't aware of them because they lack an effective marketing or distribution strategy, according to researchers.

To improve the landscape of college-access technology, the organization recommends that digital tools be designed with middle-school and underserved students in mind. Then, an emphasis should be placed on strategic distribution so students are aware of the resources and technology available to help in the process, the report suggests.

"As the focus grows on ensuring more students are prepared for, access, and complete a postsecondary degree or certificate, it will be critical to understand where and how technology can help close the 'counseling gap' alluded to earlier that is a significant barrier in students' postsecondary success," according to the report.

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