College Search Websites Reviews: Big Future by the College Board

Boy looking through binoculars to review Big Future college search websiteBig Future is the college search website by the College Board. Since the College Board is the source of all things SAT, you would expect it have a pretty good college search function. It is also a member of the Common Data Set consortium which means it has access to data that isn’t readily available to other websites.

The Big Future website has the increasingly popular and useful left column of search filters, that lets users jump right into their search. There is also an interactive guide that takes you through a series of questions as a way of setting the filters. It basically asks for a preference and then how important the preference is.

Problems with Preferences

The preference and importance options are generally a good idea but sometimes doesn’t make any sense. However, for the sake of continuity (I guess) the option is available for all filters.

For example, start with the very first filter, type of school, 2-year or 4-year. This is a yes or no question. Yet, after selecting 2-year, 4-year, or both, you have the option to move the slider to “Don’t care,” “Want,” or “Must Have.”

Does anyone see the problem with this? Never mind the fact that “Don’t care” as an option for something you just expressed a preference on doesn’t make sense period, what’s the difference between “Want” and “Must Have?”

If you select 4-year school as your filter and “Must have,” you reduce the number of schools from 3997 to 2246, Change it to “Want” and it adds the 2-year schools back into the picture. It’s not any different from not indicating a preference or selecting “Don’t care.”

Big Future Sample Search

Rather than go through all the search options, which I list at the end of this post, let’s start with a sample search to compare the results to other search engines. Based on the common characteristics I discussed in the Introduction, we’re going to search for a school for a student with an SAT scores in the 85% which is a 620 in Critical Reading (CR) and 640 in Math(M). She’s interested in the following:

  • 4 year institution
  • Doesn’t care about private or public
  • Size between 5,000-10,000 undergraduates
  • Near major city since no one says put me in the boonies
  • She’ll have the common northeast centric preferences of the following states: Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
  • Selectivity-medium because she knows she’s not going to get into Harvard but doesn’t want to go where they take just anybody
  • Major in Business

Whether or not these are the right set of preferences to be searching on is for another post or two.

Categories are Limiting

So at the Big Future, we start with 3997 colleges. For all choices, we will go with “must have” for the importance.  We can easily select for four-year schools which leaves us 2246 institutions. But we’re going to have problems with size since our only choices are “Small <2000,” “Medium 2,000-15,000,” and “Large >15,000.”

Right. A school with 2000 students would be considered the same size as a school with 15,000.

Anyway, we select medium and now we’re down to 809 institutions. Just to let you know, when I select for 5000 to 10000 full-time undergraduates on my DIY College Search Spreadsheet, I get 216 schools. If I change it 2000 to 15000 it goes up to 853.

The next filter option is location and for some reason, Big Future will not let you select multiple states at once with the control key. So you have to pick all ten states individually. Why-to prevent users from picking too many colleges? But they are already encouraging it with the size categories. Very annoying.  In any case, we’re down to 255 schools.

The setting information is under Campus & Housing and we get to choose between “Rural,” “Suburban,” and “Urban.” We’ll go with suburban and urban and drop to 224 institutions.

The current list of colleges displays after each choice and I’m pretty sure that setting of Allegheny College would not be considered suburban or urban by a lot of students. (Nothing against Allegheny, my son applied there and I think it’s a great school.)

Next we’ll select “Business” from the family of majors. Result-201 Colleges.

Selectivity and Test Scores are under “Applying.” Selectivity is based on percent admitted. You have five choices in 25 percentile intervals and open admissions.  We’ll select the 25 to 75th percentile categories. Down to 136 colleges.

Last, we’ll enter the SAT scores and don’t include schools that don’t report test  scores.  We ended up with 131 schools.

Comparing Colleges is Difficult

So how do we save this information so that we can use it?

One option is to print it. Big Future formats the information into a PDF with a summary of your search criteria and list of college names and locations for printing. No other information is included.

You can also save the information to your profile if you have registered with the site. If you pick one college, you’ll see an option on the left column to compare colleges. However, you can only select two other colleges to compare to. And it only shows the number of undergraduates enrolled, Admission Requirements, and costs for Tuition and Room and Board.

This is incredibly disappointing since the profiles include so much more information including average financial aid package and percentage of need met. In fact, you can actually set a filter for net cost and percent of need meet but they aren’t included in the comparison.

The profiles include information on the GPAs and class rank of incoming freshman but they aren’t provided as search filters. Nor can you search on graduation or retention rates even though they are listed in the profile and you certainly can’t include them in the comparison.

Big Future has information not easily found elsewhere including transfer admission rates and financial aid for international students. It does better than average in terms of allowing users to search on various information despite some of its arbitrary category selections. Ultimately, however, the limited comparison feature makes you wonder why they bothered to provide you with the information if you can’t use it to make comparisons.

Available Search Filters

As I go through the other college search websites, I’m collecting this information into a spreadsheet that I’ll make available for comparison purposes. I expect the formatting and categories to change as I continue to add websites.

College Search Websites
College Board Big Future
Information Available for Search Sort Compare Profile
2 or 4 year y y
Public or Private y y y
Size (sorta) y y y y
Single-sex or coed y y
Religious Affiliation y y
Location-state or miles to zip code y y y
Setting y y y
Residential or Commuter y y
Housing Availability
Special Housing Options y y
Coed y y
Male/Female y y
Married y y
Greek y y
Disabled y y
International y y
Wellness y y
Majors y y
Category y y
Specific y y
Study Options
Accelerated y y
Double Major y y
Honors Program y y
Internship y y
ROTC y y
Study Abroad y y
Teacher Certification y y
Distance Education y y
English as a Second Language y y
Independent Study y y
Liberal Arts/Career Combination y y
Student-Designed Major y y
Class availability
Extensive evening and morning classes y y
Saturday classes y y
Weekend College y y
Sports (Gender, and Level) y y
Choral y y
Dance y y
Film y y
Literary Magazine y y
Musical Ensembles y y
Opera y y
Student Newspaper y y
Television Station y y
Concert Band y y
Drama/Theater y y
Jazz Band y y
Marching Band y y
Musical Theater y y
Radio Station y y
Symphony Orchestra y y
Greek Life (available not available) y y
Selectivity y y y y
Test Scores y y y
AP y y
CLEP y y
GET y y
Transfer y y
Average Net Price y y y
% of Financial Need Meet y y y
Tuition and Fees y y y y
Work Study Programs y y
Aid for International Students y y
Campus Services
Alcohol/Substance Abuse Counseling y y
On-Campus Day Care y y
Programs for adult/re-entering students y y
remedial programs y y
services for low-income students y y
services for minority students y y
tutoring y y
veterans counselor y y
Chaplin/spiritual Director y
Financial Aid Counseling y
Health Services y
Legal Services y
Personal Counseling y
Placement services for Graduates y
Women’s Services y
Learning Center y
Pre-Admission Summer Program y
Reduced Course Load y
Study Skills assistance y
Writing Center y
Disability Services
Hearing Impaired y y
Learning Disabled y y
Speech or Communication Disorders y y
Visually Imparied y y
Wheelchair Access y y
Percentage of Minority Students y y
Specialized Mission
Historically Black College or University y y
Hispanic Servicer y y
Application Deadline y y
Graduation Rate 6 year y
Student Faculty Ratio y
Freshman Retention Rate y
Degree Levels offered y
Popular Degrees y
Majors by Degrees y
Computer Repair Service on Campus y
Dorms wired for campus network y
Dorms wired for high speed internet y
Student Webhosting y
Wireless network available y
Graduate School Attendance y
Racial Breakdown y
Part-time students y
Average Age y
Gender of Students y
Percent in/out of state y
Pets Allowed y
% all undergraduates in housing y
% freshman in housing y
Academic considerations for Admissions y
Application Requirements y
Class Rank y
Class GPA y
Test Scores Middle 50 y
Test Scores percent score by range y
Criteria used to determine aid y
Financial aid stat (applied, need, offer, met) y
Average Financial Aid Package y
Type Tuition Plans y
Tuition Guarantee Plans y
Type of Work Study Programs y
Avg Need based Loan y
Avg Need based scholarship y
Avg Non need based aid y
Avg Indebtness at graduation y
Transfer GPA y
Transfer Credits y
Transfer Acceptance Rates y
Transfer Requirements y
Services for Transfers y
Number of International Students Receive Aid y
Total Amount Awarded y
Requirements for Int aid y
TOEFL Scores y





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