College Board Planning Website Unveiled

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citing the increasingly complex nature of the college admissions process, the College Board unveiled a new website on Tuesday that one executive hailed as the most comprehensive college planning tool available online.

“It’s unique, from searching for colleges, to financing, to how to get in, to creating a plan that puts it all together,” said Roy Ben-Yoseph, executive director of digital products at the College Board, of the new website called BigFuture.org.

“Different sites are out there that do different pieces,” Ben-Yoseph said. “We’re unique in the A-to-Z nature of it.”

“We believe that BigFuture will improve the college planning process for students and families by providing more access and expert guidance that is essential but often not available to students in their schools,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“We’re trying to make the process simple, accessible and more transparent, providing students with the what, where, when and how of college planning,” Caperton said.

Among other things, the website helps students narrow the type of college they’d like to attend by answering questions that range from the size and location of a school to career interests and possible majors. College Board officials repeatedly described it as a tool but said it was not necessarily a substitute for a real-life guidance and college admissions counselor.

Nonetheless, College Board officials presented two students who sang the praises of the BigFuture.org website.

For instance, Lapria Johnson, a Washington, D.C.-area high school junior involved in the Upward Bound program, credited a predecessor College Board website with helping her identify colleges of interest as well as scholarships to help offset the cost of higher education.

“I think that the College Board website—BigFuture—helps even more because it’s not only bringing things that were already on the College Board website, but adds more,” Johnson said. “You see videos of students just like you answering questions.”

“I think that students can gain a lot from it because you don’t always get one-to-one time with your counselor because they have hundreds of other students they have to deal with, not just you,” Johnson said.

Asked what advice she would give students intimidated by the college planning process, Johnson said, “You should not be fearful. You should not be anxious. All you have to do is go to BigFuture.com,” she said, evoking laughter, perhaps in part because the actual website is BigFuture.org.

However, not everyone who attended the kickoff event for the BigFuture.org website was convinced of its purported ability to “narrow the gap” in college enrollment between affluent students and those of lesser economic means.

Among other things, those in the college admissions counseling community said the “elephant in the room” was the fact that, while the College Board believes the site will make a difference in college enrollment among low-income students, Internet access itself is often problematic for the poor.

“I just think there are a large number of students who don’t have broadband access or Internet access at all,” said one college counseling specialist who opted to speak on condition of anonymity. “And you’re talking about a platform that’s driven by videos. Its mere foundation is built upon the fact that students have to have access to not only the Internet but high-speed Internet and have a machine to run those things.

“If they don’t have that, it’s not feasible. For something that’s being pushed as inclusive to everyone, especially those from the underprivileged populations, I just don’t see how everything adds up.”

Others pointed out that the website is not as unique as the College Board makes it out to be and that school districts already are using other websites—some under contract, such as www.naviance.com and www.connectedu.com –that are in many ways comparable and in some ways superior in that they allow for human interaction, whereas BigFuture.org offers only pre-recorded videos.

Caperton, of the College Board, said BigFuture.org represents part of a revolution in the college planning process.

The message of the website to educators and counselors, he said, is “we’re here to help.”