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Obama to rank colleges. So can you, with no wait. Here's where to look.

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Parents have been spending a lot of time on the portion of the site that allows exploration of college majors – helping to identify which colleges graduate large numbers of students within a given area of interest, for instance, or finding “clusters of excellence” within a college, Phelan says.

That’s because choosing a college is just one part of forging an affordable path to a degree. When students change majors, it can cost them an additional year or more of school.

College Factual offers free comprehensive data comparisons, and will eventually expand from four-year colleges to two-year schools and graduate schools, as well. But the for-profit company will also begin offering a $49-a-year option with additional tools to help students determine their own preferences and temperament and identify schools and majors that might be a good fit. It's a way to “find your future faster for less than the price of a tank of gas,” Phelan says.

The professional networking site LinkedIn.com has decided it can offer something unique to prospective college students, as well: access to data about – and connections with -- thousands of global alumni who can help students envision a path to college and various careers they, perhaps, had never considered.

Earlier this month it launched University Pages, with tools making it easy to see how many alumni work in a given field or to search for alumni by city or company. The pages offer a “notable alumni” section, a place for the university to highlight aspects of campus life, a list of similar universities around the world, and a place to post questions and get answers from officials or alumni.

In mid-September, the minimum age for using LinkedIn in the United States will drop from 18 to 14, so that high school students can use the tools, which will also include key data points on factors such as cost.

“Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals … and we want them to make more informed decisions about where they go to school, because it’s a huge investment,” says Crystal Braswell, spokeswoman for LinkedIn in Mountain View, Calif.

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