Should You Use The College Board Search Tool To Research Colleges?

Woman using laptop computer on sofa

Should You Use The College Board Search Tool To Research Colleges?

Published July 26, 2015

Woman using laptop computer on sofa

Woman using laptop computer on sofa

In the spirit of a new college admissions cycle and for the benefit of both rising juniors and seniors this is the third review in our series of reviews of college search websites. Some have a plethora of worthwhile information which can really help a student create a thorough list of both academically and financially appropriate schools, while other search sites are merely front-ends collection sources for capturing student information and reselling it to companies (and colleges) wanting to sell products, services, and applications to students. So follow us to know which sites are worth spending your time on and which to avoid.




3 Steps to Show You Why You Should Visit:


  1. Enter a college in the Find College field at the bottom left-hand corner of the home page. 
  2. Click on the Applying option on the left-hand menu.
  3. Scroll down until you see the tab options. Select the AP tab.


You now see how much credit your AP scores might actually be worth. BigFuture is operated by the College Board, the company that makes and administers the test. This makes it your best option, beside the school itself, for information on AP or CLEP credit. Remember, just because a school offers credit doesn’t mean it will count towards degree requirements. 


What to look for on this site:

Study Options & Services Tab

This is under the Majors & Learning Environment. These options should give you an idea of the variation of potential offerings at even small colleges. Cooperative Education programs are an excellent way to get experience and starting earning money. Cross-Registration with other institutions increases the number of classes available.  And Off-Campus Study Options allows students to network in places like New York or Washington for a semester.


Activities Tab

This tab is under the Campus Life Option. Without doing an exact study, I’ve found Big Future’s profiles to have the most comprehensive listing of campus activities. If available, you’ll see a link to the student newspaper which can be a wealth of information on current campus issues. The tab also lists the percentage of students joining fraternities and sororities. 



What I Would Change About This Website

Big Future’s college comparison feature is pretty much useless. It only allows for three colleges. The Cost & Aid section is just a listing of the sticker price for tuition and fees and room and board-no financial aid data at all.  It does list the acceptance rates and test scores which is something. However, given the actual amount of space the comparison takes up on the screen, it really offers very little value.


The Financial Aid by the Numbers tab under the Paying option has some nice graphics but the data is confusing. The bar graphs are referring to All Undergraduates but the Average Financial Aid Package listed at the top is for just 1st year students which you don’t know if is supposed to be different from the percentage of freshman with need who received financial need. If you want a straight forward comparison of the available numbers, use COLLEGEdata‘s Money Matters tab instead.


Usual Complaints about this website

With the review of Big Future, I get to talk about my third problem with college search websites, the use of sliders to indicate the importance of a selection. (The other two are limitations on search options and the inability to download data which I discussed in the COLLEGEdata review.) For example, under Paying you can set the filter for colleges that meet 60% of average need and then set the slider for Don’t CareWant, and Must Have.  


At the very top of the College Search page, Big Future lists the number of results. I have tried all sorts of combinations and can’t really figure out how the Want option affects the results differently from Don’t Care. Or actually, let me rephrase that, I haven’t used it enough to find a situation where I would include Want instead of Must Have as part of my search. 

I think the concept is valuable. They’re trying to give the user the option to say when having to choose between say location or size, which is more important? It just doesn’t seem to be working very well in application.


Check out our reviews of other college search websites:

Should You Use

Should You Use The College Board Search Tool To Research Colleges?


Michelle Kretzschmar created the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet, which contains information on over 1,500 colleges that families can use to identify the best schools for them.

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