Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines: Will Attending a Community College Save You Money?

Woman putting money in piggy bank(This is part 2 of Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines)

In the original review of comparing college search?  websites, I used a set of college preferences for a fictional high school student. At the time, I based them on the factors that seemed most frequently mentioned in the college search process-I know, not very scientific.

I don’t intend to become any more scientific this time around. I do want to discuss how the different search criteria can affect how much you pay for college. The characteristics I looked at comparing college search websites before were as follows:

  • 4 year institution
  • Doesn’t care about private or public
  • 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.
  • Size between 5,000-10,000 undergraduates
  • Near major city since no one says put me in the boonies
  • 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

So let’s start with the four-year institution requirement. For the traditional 18 year-old planning to go to college full-time, this seems like a no-brainer. In general, students are more likely to graduate with a four-year degree if they start at a four-year institution.

Part 1: Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines
Part 2: Will Attending a Community College Save You Money?
Part 3: Should You Attend an Out-of-State Public University
Part 4: How Far Away Should You Go To College?
Part 5: Does College Size Matter?
Part 6: Colleges in Large Cities
Part 7: College Acceptance Rates
Part 8: Searching for Colleges by Majors
Part 9: The Results

Theoretically, starting at a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution would save student a significant amount of money. The problem is that most students don’t make the transfer.

Then there is the problem that those that do transfer often lose credits in the transfer process. This means students still take more than two years to complete their degree at the four-year institution and will have to pay for that time as well.

Of course, there are plenty of four-year institutions that have such low graduation rates that students don’t necessarily gain any graduation advantage by attending them rather than a community college. That means you haven’t saved any money.

Selecting the four-year institution provides you with better odds of graduating on time and avoiding paying for extra semesters. However, given that 532?  four-year schools have a four-year graduation rate of less than 25%, you can’t rely on a four-year school always saving you money over a two-year institution.

So how big of a deal is it to select just four-year institutions at the various college search websites? For two of them, COLLEGEdata, and Unigo, it isn’t even an option. Apparently they only provide four-year options. All of the remaining websites allow users to choose four-year schools only.

You would think that this would be the end of the post wouldn’t you? We’ve got four-year schools, let’s continue to the next filter. However, this simple choice foreshadows data issues for the rest of the searches. See, of the six websites that list how many schools are found in each search, the range of four-year schools spans from a low of 1,643 to a high of 3,027.

Kind of makes you wonder how they’re deciding what qualifies as a four-year institution. And there’s really no way to find out.

Now you can argue that even with only 1,643 schools, users will have plenty of schools to choose from. And let’s face it, as long the US News top 100 schools in the various rankings show up, most people won’t care about the differences. But it’s something to keep in mind as we start adding more limiting filters–we are going to get very different results from the different websites.

Selecting Only Four-Year Schools at College Search Websites

Big Future: Select under “Type.” Number of schools available drops from 3,961 to 2,297.

Cappex: Select under “Search by Criteria.” It’s not clear if “4-year” will include “4-year plus.” Doesn’t provide number of schools found.

CollegeData Includes only four-institutions.

CollegeNavigator Select under “Institution Type,” “4-year.” Don’t use the “Degree Type” option and “Bachelor’s” since it can include community colleges.

CollegeProwler You’ll need to select “Traditional Colleges and Universities” under “Institution Type” (2,248 matches) and then “Bachelor Degrees” which results in 1,855 schools.

College Reality Check Under “Type of Degree,” check “four-year bachelor’s” which lists 2,293 results.

CollegeView (SuperMatch) Choose “Traditional College/University” under ‘School Type.” I’m not sure what determines the listing order.

CollegeXpress Select “4 year” under “School Type” for 1,643 results.

My College Options Under “Type,” choose “Four-Year” for 2,308 matches.

Peterson’s You need to use the same combination as CollegeProwler which will end up finding 2,686 schools.

Unigo Doesn’t offer ability to search on 2 or 4 year schools.

Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines

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