By Eric Garneau
A MatchMaker Made in Heaven
Starting from a pool of 3,924 schools, the College Board's College MatchMaker promises to help narrow down your choices and find institutions where you'll excel academically and socially. How do they do it? They've got one of the most in-depth pieces of college selection software you're likely to find on the Internet, and it's totally free!
What really sets College MatchMaker apart is the number of questions it asks you to consider about your desired college experience. In total, you'll tally through eight info-seeking screens on topics like the type of school you want, the region in which you'd like to attend college and more. As you select certain options and eliminate others, you can see the total number of colleges that suit your interests grow smaller and smaller.
Beyond its specificity (it even features a checklist of numerous different sports you might want to play) the College MatchMaker provides another very useful purpose - it gets you thinking hard about what you're looking for in a school, as well as what type of schools you can realistically expect to attend. Parts of the site ask you for your desired tuition cost, what kind of financial aid you'll need, how well you performed on high school standardized tests like the ACT and SAT and how selective you want your desired institution to be. This gets college hopefuls carefully considering both their wants and possibilities.
All told, when you use College MatchMaker you'll be asked about the following:
Type of school
Do you want to go to a public or private institution? Would you prefer a 2-year or 4-year experience? How many students do you want as peers, and would you rather be in the city, the country or the suburbs?
This map of the U.S. is broken down by region, so you can select individual states or geographic groupings. You can also aim outside the U.S. if you so choose. The College Board even lets you input your zip code and specify a maximum distance you don't want to travel beyond.
A seemingly exhaustive list is provided to you, broken down into subcategories. If, for instance, your interest lies in English language and literature, you could select subordinate categories like American literature, composition and technical/business writing or add them all to your search.
Cost and financial aid
Here you're asked to provide the maximum tuition you'd be willing to pay in-state and out-of-state, as well as what kind of financial aid (both need-based and not) you'll want.
Pick how selective you want your school to be, what kind of GPAs and test scores they look for and what kind of extra accreditation and placement options they offer.
Sports and activities
Select which sports and other extracurriculars you'd like to participate in. Also, tell the MatchMaker how you feel about Greek life.
Housing and programs
What kind of residence hall do you want to live in, or would you prefer going off-campus (some schools won't let you)? Do you want to double major or study abroad? Now's the time to make that known.
Finally, fill in some information regarding what you want your campus to look like. Do you prefer single-sex education? Are any disability-related services required? Would you be more comfortable in an environment with a religious affiliation or with a high population of minority students? College MatchMaker can help you with all of that information.
The Fun Doesn't Stop
When you're done with these eight screens, what results is an alphabetical list of schools that match your preferences. From there, the MatchMaker still has plenty to offer its users. Each school on their site has a detailed profile with pages matching the eight sections you were just quizzed about. For each institution you can click a link entitled 'Am I on track?' to see if you've taken care of enough requirements in high school to enter the institution. You can also click on 'How do I stack up?' to see how your academic performance relates to averages at the school.
Helpfully, College MatchMaker also allows you to keep your own customized profile where you can add favorite schools to lists (with a free College Board account) and even compare up to three schools side-by-side in a spreadsheet-style document. Depending on how specific you are throughout this process, you may be left with a lot of options at the end of your search (my own test run returned 152 schools that met my criteria, and I filled in data on every page), but it's always nice to know you have options.
If you're just starting the college hunt, then, College MatchMaker could provide you with an invaluable first look at some schools. If you're further into the decision-making process and want a direct way to compare your choices, the MatchMaker can help you do that, too. Its information about school costs and academic options makes it almost like an encyclopedia of higher education institution facts, and one that's totally free at that. So for anyone out there who's college-bound (or think they might soon be), start making some matches!
Still confused about your decision? Study.com asked current and former students why and how they picked the schools they did.