If you do a web search for “college search” chances are you’ll find the College Board’s Big Future at the top of the results list. It’s not surprising since they have historically already have access to some of the information many students and colleges have considered the most important in college admissions–test scores. But just how good is Big Future in helping you create your college list?
The truth is that all of the college search websites are using pretty much the same data. They are based on either the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) or the Common Data Set (CDS) or some combination of both. There may be some subtle, but important differences, in the data available on a specific website but for the most part, you can expect to find the basics at all the college websites.
Yes, they seem the same for a reason.
Furthermore, they all pretty much let users search for colleges by size, geography, and major. They will have something about test scores or selectivity and probably something related to social activities. So it can be hard to see any differences between them.
But there are differences. The way the websites allow users to search for colleges and how the results are displayed can be very different. And depending how a website is set up, it may be easier for you to find the colleges you want on one website than on another.
And that brings us back to the College Board’s Big Future website. Is it worth using? What makes it different from the other college search websites? Well, here’s what you need to know.
Big Future Pros
1-No registration required.
For those concerned about privacy, not having to register to access all of the college information is a big advantage. It also means that you don’t have a student loan ad in your face every other paragraph.
2-Test scores for test optional colleges.
You know that most of the colleges that aren’t reporting test score information because they are test optional are still collecting this information. Now even if the school isn’t going to require you to submit your scores, knowing the scores of the students accepted can help you gauge your chances for admissions.
Yes, it’s an iffy sort of situation and you really need to take the number in context of what percentage of students submitted them. But it can be useful information and may sometimes only be found in the Big Future profile.
3-Wait list statistics.
If you want to know how much hope you should have after being placed on the wait list, you can find it on the Big Future’s College Profile.
Big Future allows you to search for colleges that offer credit or placement for AP Exams. For the CLEP you can actually select by test topic. Of course, this feature shouldn’t be surprising since the College Board owns both tests. But if you’re looking for schools where your AP work will actually pay off in terms of college credits, this is the place to search.
5-Financial Aid for International Students.
Big Future may be the only website that lets you search for colleges that offer financial aid for international students.
Big Future Cons
1-6 Year Graduation Rates.
Do you plan to graduate in 4 years or 6 years? Do you plan to pay for 4 years of college or 6 years? I don’t care even if you are a non-traditional student, (which makes up the majority of college students if you count community college) you probably are still interested in finishing college as soon as possible.
Yes, this is a sore spot for me and has been since I started looking into it for my son. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be using the 4 year rate. They don’t even bother to show it. And what’s worst, is that you can’t even search on graduation rates. When creating college lists, my first step in reducing the size is to set a minimum graduation rate. Ok, I’ll stop about graduation rates now.
2-Test score search feature is weak.
Or maybe it’s just not well thought out. Users can enter their scores and find colleges with scores that “are close matches or above.” So in other words, it’s going to show schools that are “likely” for admissions or “reach.”
If you want to search for schools likely to offer merit scholarships you need to be able to search on the 75th% scores and your score should be the highest, not the lowest. Let’s face it, what they need is to allow users to enter a range but for some reason they didn’t.
3-Size categories are useless.
No really, they are-unless you’re one of the 3.7% of people who would group categories into 3 size categories of <2,000, 2,000-15,000, or >15,000. Because a school with a population of 2,000 has much more in common with a school of 15,000 than with one that is only 1,500. I vote Big Future as having the worst college size search feature.
4.-No way to search for merit aid.
Even though the Common Data Set has information on students without need who receive institutional scholarships, there’s no way to search for it. You can see the average non need-based aid in the school’s individual profile but that’s it.
5-Can’t really compare colleges.
At least not without registering so that you can save your list. I didn’t bother so I don’t know how good their list is for comparing colleges. But given how they set up their search results, I’m guessing it won’t be very good. It’s websites like these that cause families to start entering information into a spreadsheet so that they can compare schools.
Should you use the College Board’s Big Future?
So why even mess with the College Board’s Big Future? Because it’s the College Board. Chances are they have your data already. Since you’re already registered with them so why not use the service they’re providing?
Personally, I tend to bypass Big Future for other websites that let me get a little closer to searching and comparing colleges for costs and merit aid. I’ll be covering some of them in future posts so keep your eyes open for them. Or better yet, subscribe to my newsletter here if you haven’t already done so.