College Confidential Review: Noisy, with occasionally useful advice

College Confidential is an extensive information site that tries to help students and parents prepare for the college years, including articles on topics such as how to get into the college you want, how to pay for college, and what campus life will be like.

The articles on this site are almost universally helpful. In particular, the advice and examples of successful college application essays is a gift to those who can’t begin to figure out exactly what colleges want from them, or how to make their experiences seem “important” enough to the faraway, nameless people that will be judging them mainly from words on a paper.

However, things get a little hairier when you move on to the College Confidential online forums. While there is plenty of good advice here from people who have already been down the college road, it can be tough to know what is valuable and what is noise. Like any online forum, the College Confidential discussions allow people to spout their opinions even when they don’t know what they’re talking about, or when their motives are actually to be unhelpful for their own amusement.

Even when people are trying to be helpful (and, to be clear, most people are), you don’t know whether the person giving advice is at all similar to you. Do they think like you do, or have similar attitudes in terms of what is desirable in a college experience?

The “What Are My Chances?” forum in particular should be used with caution. This is the forum where high school seniors lay out their grades, test scores, and extracurriculars and ask others to assess their chances of being accepted into the school of their choice, usually a school with a very low acceptance rate. The answers given on this forum run the gamut from positive people that tell everyone they are sure to be accepted, to those who seem to know a few things and can be helpful, to people who tell everyone their test scores are not good enough. In addition, the fact that many of the people on this board will ask you to “chance them back” (meaning you give your opinion on their chances at a desired school) tells you that the opinions you receive are not necessarily informed, because the people responding haven’t been accepted anywhere themselves!

If this sounds too negative, what we will say is that there is no harm in chatting with others who have the same jitters about acceptance as you do. In many ways, the “What Are My Chances” forum is more useful as a support group than as a real insight into your future. Remember that and you won’t let yourself get too high or too low based on the feedback you get from others.

College is a great experience once you are in, but can be very daunting when you’re still trying to figure it all out. College Confidential is a great resource if you’re willing to take the advice you receive with just a small grain of salt.