College Search Websites: College Data

Man sitting and looking at websitesThe College Data Your Online College Advisor website has a variety of interesting features besides its College Match service.  Registered users can track college admission results based on test scores and GPA entered by other website users. They can also calculate their chances for admissions at different colleges and estimate net cost.

I’m not sure how much faith I would put into the chances for admissions. I tried it by entering some excellent stats and it listed the chances for Harvard as being a “High Maybe'” just under “Good Bet.” I entered very high but not perfect scores and maxed out the other criteria but I just don’t think anyone can qualify as a “High Maybe” for Harvard based on just basic statistics.

The Scattergram View for specific colleges can be useful for students who think that they don’t have a chance to get into any college. It plots users application status based on their test scores and GPA. Granted, this is all based on self-reported scores but they can’t all be faking their stats.

You’ll find the College Match under the College 411 option. Using the common characteristics I discussed in the Introduction, we’re going to search for a school for a student with SAT scores in the 85th% 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

College Data’s first section is location where you can select by city, state, or region. There’s no option for distance to home. You can use the control key to select multiple states at once. However, it doesn’t show the selected states in a separate list, so you have to scroll through the windows to see your selections.

For student size we can actually get our preferred grouping of 5,000-9,999.

College Search Websites

Entrance Difficulty under Admissions isn’t simply acceptance rates. College Data developed five categories based a combination of class rank, test scores, and percentage of students accepted. Given these categories, we’ll select “Very Difficult” and “Moderately Difficult”

College Data doesn’t provide any option for searching on school setting so we’ll just have to risk getting school out in the middle of no where. However, as seen in the review of Big Future, it’s really not that useful.

Users can select from a general category for majors such as Business or something more specific such as Accounting. We’ll stay with the general Business selection.

We don’t have to worry about 2 or 4 year since College Data only lists four-year institutions.

There’s no option to enter preferences for test scores so we’ll just have to rely on the Entrance Difficulty selections.

This leaves us with 60 colleges. That’s not the same as 131 as found by the Big Future website. In case you’re wondering, only 32 colleges appeared on both lists. And while the College Data selection format is easily usable, it is nice to have the filters listed on the side, like Big Future does, where they can be quickly changed and you can see how it affects the number of matching colleges.

Now that you have your list, what can you do with it?

Well, you can’t just print it out so Big Future has one up on the College Data website. As expected, you can select colleges to save to your data locker where you still can’t print the information for multiple colleges at once or export it. You can print individual profiles. In your Data Locker, you can add labels such as 1,2, 3, $, ?, check mark, football, star, or smiley face. You can also add a note with your own comments.

This little bit of customization is better than Big Future and may be all most people want. But I think it would be nice to be able to print out a list to take to your college counselor.

You do have more information for comparison purposes. The College Data website lets you sort and compare on a fairly wide variety of categories.

  • City
  • State
  • Size
  • Gender Mix
  • Entry Difficulty
  • Your Net Cost (estimate based on information you provide)
  • Resident Cost of Attendance
  • Non-resident Cost of Attendance
  • Need Met
  • Merit Aid
  • Student
  • Debt
  • Freshman Satisfaction
  • Graduation Rate
  • Type (Public/Private)
  • Student Background (American Indian, African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, International)

Like in Big Future, the individual college profiles in College Data contain a lot more information than you can search on or use for comparison. The College Data website is using both the Common Data Set and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set for its profiles. I’ve added the College Data information categories to my college search website comparison table and, as expected, it’s currently a mess. So it will be a little bit before I have the side by side comparison of features.

In the mean time, there are some interesting things to be found on the College Data website that isn’t available on the Big Future website. The College Data website provides a breakdown of percentage of classes and labs by class size. For example, it will show you that 20% of all classes are between 20-29 students.

This can be useful information but keep in mind it doesn’t tell you what percentage of students are attending the classes. Even if only 5% of classes are over 100 students, it could mean that 15 or 20% of students are attending such classes. After all, bigger classes mean you need fewer of them. None the less, it can be useful for comparison purposes.

College Data has information on security features that you won’t find on Big Future. In general, I find the emphasis on security features on most campuses to be misplaced but I guess that’s what makes people feel better.

I think the Getting Around feature under the Campus Life tab pretty useful. It tells you how far to the nearest airport, bus station, and train station. The same tab also gives average temperature in September and January and number of rainy days per year.

Another difference is that College Data lists the 4, 5, and 6 year graduation rates while Big Future only provides the 6 year rate.

The College Data websites breaks down financial aid for freshman and all undergraduates while Big Future just does all undergraduates. And users will find information on the percentage of parents borrowing PLUS loans on College Data but not on Big Future.

Transfer and International students will not find any sections just for them as on the Big Future website. College Data’s Money Matters Section doesn’t provide any information on financial aid for international students. Nor does it have any transfer admission acceptance rates or information.

When using the profiles on College Data, you will always have the Admission Tracker results and your net cost to attend the college listed on the right hand side of the page.

The Admission Tracker shows the average GPA and Test scores of registered site users who have shown interest in the college. You can click on a link and get more specific information by application status and year.

The net cost information is estimated based on information you enter into the Net Cost Calculator and does not include non-need aid. Like everything else, you need to take its value with a grain of salt but it does serve as a nice reminder of the financial aid situation.

College Data doesn’t look as pretty or let you search on as many factors as Big Future. But it does include some of the key ones in the search options including graduation rates, financial need met, merit aid, and better size categories. The comparison feature on College Data is much more useful than Big Future’s. Unless Big Future has some information critical to your search that’s not available of College Data, I would use College Data and its more meaningful comparisons over the slick interface of Big Future.

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