Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines: Does College Size Matter?

(This is part 5 of Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines)Big-Fish-Small-Fish

The fourth element for our fictional high school student’s college search is school size. Without ever having attended college, many high school students have some very definitive ideas about what size school they want to attend. “Big” is associated with endless academic options, social opportunities, and alumni networking. “Small” is about personalized attention, small classes, dinners with professors, and tight-knit social groups.

In other words, when talking about college size, a lot of people are talking about the expected college experience–social and academic. And while these perceptions have some truth in them, size probably shouldn’t be the definitive factor in narrowing down your college list.

This applies especially to those interested in the “big” experience. Why? It comes down to numbers. There are 189 universities nationally with more than 10,000 full-time undergraduates.

Number of
2500 or less 856
2501-5000 284
5001-7500 143
7501-10000 89
10001-15000 72
15001-20000 60
20001 plus 57

Only 44 of them have four-year graduation rates of 50% or more. However, of the 1,372 schools that have 10,000 or fewer full-time undergraduates, 329 have graduation rates of 50% or better.

So does college size matter?

Not exactly. It’s not that small schools are necessarily better choices than large ones, there are just more of them to choose from. Size doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of experience or results. The sizes of the 47 institutions (with 500 or more full-time undergraduates) with an 85% or greater four-year graduation rate range from 507 to 14,928. Given that 24 had admission rates of less than 20% while all but two had accepted less than 40% of applicants, selectivity is likely to be more important for graduation rates than size.

Colleges with a Four-Year Graduation Rate of 85% or Better

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Even if you are absolutely certain of your desired school size, the college search websites may not accommodate that certainty. For some reason, the website designers believe that it’s necessary to provide the user with size categories rather than let the users enter the numbers themselves.

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

Why? Are they afraid students won’t enter numbers big enough or small enough to include a significant number of their supporting institutions? I’m pretty sure it’s not because of some well-regarded and widely accepted categorization of colleges and universities by size. If that was the case, you would expect some consistency among the size choices from website to website and there are none.

The one website that does allow users to “enter” their own numbers, College Express, uses a slider bar scaled from 0 to 100,000. Do you know what that means? That means to limit the size to a range of 15,000 students, the end points will have to overlap in about a quarter-inch of space. It’s impossible to get an exact number using the slider bar.

The websites are also vague about what their actually counting. Is it all students, just undergraduate students, or only full-time undergraduate students? Only College View lets users choose whether to use all students or just undergraduate students. None of them address the difference between full-time and part-time students.

The table below shows the number of category choices available for each website and the range I ended up using to capture schools with 5,000 to 10,000 students. This sometimes included more than one category. It also shows the number schools found with the state filters, if available, as discussed in Part 4 of this series. I also included the results for the schools without state filters.

Range Used
to Select
any State
Big Future 3 2,000-15,000 242
Cappex 5 2,500-15,000
CollegeData 6 5,000-9,999 82
CollegeNavigator 13* 5,000-10,000 82
CollegeProwler 6 5,000-10,000 238
College Reality Check 3 3,000-9,999 483
CollegeView (SuperMatch) 5 2,001-13,000
CollegeXpress any 4,831-9,958 69
My College Options 5 4,000-14,999 112
Peterson’s 5 2,000-13,000 298
Unigo 7 5,001-10,000
DIY College Rankings any 5,000-10,000 76 232

* users can select for minimum and maximum values

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