News: College Access & Success

Why Encourage Students to Use 'BigFuture' When Planning for Postsecondary?

Friday, July 19, 2019  
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By guest bloggers Julia J. Lake, Pennsylvania College Advising Corps, and Rasha M. Cheek, College Advising Corps

Because high school students can use the free online college planning site BigFuture to qualify for the College Board Opportunity Scholarships, NCAN asked two staff members from College Advising Corps programs to share their perspective about the site.

Julia's Perspective

BigFuture is a great “one-stop shop” resource for high school students navigating the college-going process. It has a wealth of information and a variety of tools that serve to help students tackle the complexities of discovering good college options, exploring majors and careers, and understanding admissions requirements and financial aid – all in one place.

The road to getting to college has definitely gotten more complicated over the years. Especially for underrepresented, low-income, and first-generation students – the population that the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps (PCAC) seeks to support the most – having access to reliable, free resources to help them through the college-going process is crucial.

One particularly helpful feature that PCAC advisers often use with students is the “college search” tool. It helps students to identify good “match and fit” college options by providing search filters based on student interests and preferences. The College Board has a database of over 3,800 colleges that students can filter by selectivity, size, location, major availability, and more.

Going into the college search process, students might have a handful of colleges on their radar. For many students that PCAC serves, they are usually the colleges located in the area, or where friends or family have attended in the past. What students do not always understand is just because a college is close to home, or because a friend or family member enjoyed their experience there, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the best option for them. The filterable search feature prompts students to think more critically about the factors that are important to them in making a well-informed college decision, which makes it a fantastic tool to echo the work that advisers do with their students every day.

When I served as a college adviser, I also used the college search tool during meetings to better understand and cater to the needs of my students. Asking a 17-year-old outright what they might be looking for in a college usually leads to blank stares. There is a lot of pressure on students during their junior and senior years to know what they want out of the next two to four years of their lives, and even if it’s based in a desire to help, the question can still be very overwhelming. Using interactive tools like BigFuture breaks down complex decisions and helps to transform a big, scary thing into a series of more digestible pieces of information.

Julia J. Lake is assistant director of the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps.

Rasha's Perspective

What does BigFuture allow students to do?

The BigFuture website allows students to not only build a college list, but it provides them the essentials to begin their preparation to apply for college. I wished I knew about it when I was getting ready to apply to college. It has everything that a student needs. From finding the right college fit, career and college major exploration, scholarship search engine, to resources on how to pay for college, the BigFuture website has it.

One situation that I run into is when my students ask, “Which majors would you recommend for my career path?” I always introduce them to BigFuture’s major and career search. First, I ask them what their career interests are. Then, I show them the “related majors & related careers” section. Then we begin the college exploration search that shows which colleges have that specific major.

When should students start using it?

I believe that students should begin using it during their junior year of high school, no later than spring semester. Junior year would be an essential time to begin the exploration of the BigFuture website to see what kinds of careers interest them, and then start exploring the types of colleges that they may want to attend.

How does BigFuture help college advisers as they support students? 

The BigFuture website helps college advisers to support their student’s needs by identifying their student’s interests and questions they may have about preparing for college. Most students tend to have questions regarding college major and career exploration, financial aid, scholarships, essay writing, SAT/ACT scores, and AP scores. The BigFuture website also has everything that you need to navigate different factors when identifying the best college fit for you. Some of those sections encompass test scores and selectivity, types of schools, majors and learning environment, etc.

What tips do you have for students and for college advisers to get the most benefit from BigFuture?

For students, I recommend the “paying” tab of the college search engine. The majority of my students acknowledge to me that a significant need in a college is affordability. One of the functions that BigFuture has under the paying tab is the “Percentage of Financial Need a School Can Meet.” This is very helpful. Also, from my experience, many students tend to use BigFuture for its essential functions such as building their college lists, and I challenge them to explore more of the options that are accessible to them.

For college advisers, I recommend that they show their students the individual college profiles that BigFuture provides. When I meet with my students, I show them the “applying” and “paying” tabs. In the applying tab, I tend to review the application requirements, SAT/ACT scores (how to measure your score under the median ranges that a school provides), and AP testing qualifications. In the paying section, I always recommend reviewing the “Financial Aid by the Numbers” section because it gives an elaborate description of how financial aid is distributed at their institution (percentage of scholarships vs. loans), financial aid statistics for all undergraduate students, and the average first-year financial-aid package. I use this section to the fullest to get my students to understand how strong their institution of interest is in providing financial aid.

Overall, how does BigFuture support the College Advising Corps’ goal to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education?

I believe that BigFuture supports our goals by providing excellent resources to help students become successful in preparing for their college access journey. The BigFuture website is a great tool that does provide the best fit for students, and as a representative of the College Advising Corps, it is also our goal to help students to obtain the best “match and fit” for them as well. Regardless of a student’s background, I truly believe that every student deserves a chance to make a difference in the world and what better way to begin that journey by supporting them in going to college?

Rasha M. Cheek is a class of 2020 eAdvisor for the College Advising Corps.

(Photo by Firza Pratama on Unsplash)