Headline: How to Begin Your College Search: Big Future
Abstract: The College Board’s website, Big Future, is an excellent website for younger students starting high school — not only does it offer basic information about the college process, including college prep and the college application, it provides a useful search engine allowing students to select university characteristics to narrow down their initial school list. This article goes over the most useful parts of the website for students and parents to explore.
The College Board and its Resources
I was recently introduced to a great resource for parents and students starting (or in the midst of) the college application process: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/. This website is a product of the College Board, and for our information, this non-profit organization develops and administers standardized tests used by post-secondary education institutions as part of the college admissions process. This website is one of the resources and tools that the organization maintains for students seeking post-secondary education knowledge. Founded in 1899 (yes!) the organization’s intent was to “adopt and publish a statement of the ground which should be covered and of the aims which should be sought by secondary school teaching in each of the following subjects (and in such others as may be desirable), and a plan of examination suitable as a test for admission to college: Botany, Chemistry, English, French, German, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Physics, Zoology”.
The Big Future website welcomes parents and students with “Finding colleges and careers that are right for you doesn’t have to be stressful. Sign in for help planning for life after high school.” Not only does it help students plan for college, but it also has resources about how to fund college costs (domestic students) and also for long term planning with career exploration. Let’s go through each area and allow me to highlight what is most important.
Plan for College
This is the most robust section of the website, and has the most information for younger students unfamiliar with the college application process, college itself, or the resources needed to attain a college degree.
In the ‘College Basics’ section, students can learn about the types of colleges which exist, looking at important factors such as college size, the college campus, community colleges and also, transferring from a two year college to a four year one. For the students I work with at WholeRen, most consider ranking first and foremost, without thinking about a very important variable when it comes to college: the student body size, which then impacts the student to faculty ratio. Many international students would fare better at a smaller college (or university) given language barriers and issues in adjusting to U.S. culture. At larger universities, where more majors may exist, students often have less access to resources (given the need to share resources amongst more students) and there are less advisor who will intimately work with students (again, given limited resources for staffing when there are so many students for each advisor to work with). While the College Basics section only briefly covers the pros and cons of larger versus smaller colleges, it is a place to start considering your personality, and how it may be more adaptable to one type of setting versus another as you begin to explore the colleges themselves.
Under this tab, the ‘College Search’ tab is incredibly useful for students just starting out: this is where students can explore colleges by location, majors offered, type and campus life. Location and majors are self explanatory so let’s just discuss what type and campus life searches mean. The ‘type’ search allows students to search two and four year colleges along with college types (public versus private) but also more specific variables: those with a special mission (all women’s colleges, for example) and those with varied study options (e.g., those that offer English as a Second Language courses, Honors Colleges, and those that offer distance learning).
The Campus Life tab will allow students to search for schools based on size, setting (e.g., urban), types of campus activities (e.g., marching band, college newspaper), campus services (e.g, services for minority students) and disability support services. This tab can narrow the college search down based upon what a student might want from their college outside of the classroom experience — studying in an urban setting means access to a vibrant city life and the potential for off campus internships/jobs, whereas in a rural setting, students are focused on their campus life, thus creating a more insular, student-connected college experience.
Pay For College
This tab can help a student not only understand, but calculate their college costs. This is likely the only useful section for international students as they cannot qualify for federally funded scholarships. While most of the scholarships are for U.S. citizens or residents, there are some which have no such requirements and instead may have other specifications (e.g., must be studying journalism) so it does warrant a review should students want to see what non-federal aid they may apply for.
Under this tab, students can start with a five page quiz –where there is no right or wrong answer — which will then produce a list of possible career paths for a student to consider. The career paths not only offer a job description, but also median salary, level of education needed, and very importantly, the projected job growth. If you are a freshman in high school, the projected job growth is vital to know that this position you are interested in will still be around and growing by the time you complete all the educational training necessary.
If you already have a career option in mind which you would like to explore, the career search box allows you to input the job title, and as before, you would see the median salary, education needed, and the projected job growth.
The ‘Career Clusters’ section brings together a group of jobs that have similar features (e.g., working in the healthcare industry) and provides videos for students to watch. For example, if a student is interested in becoming a doctor but unsure what type of doctor they would like to be, there are videos discussing what an anesthesiologist does. Again, the videos are not comprehensive across the vast spectrum of careers but it is a starting point.
Finally, this section also goes over majors, helping explain the specific areas students can choose to study when they enter college; these are broken down into categories such as the Humanities or Business.
With so many different websites out there, and questionable authors (anyone can create a website these days, after all!), Big Future is a legitimate starting point for parents and students to start their learning about postsecondary education, thus allowing them to proceed in deeper research on individual school websites.