Whether you recall it, you’ve used — or will soon use — CollegeBoard.org. That’s because the College Board owns and administers the SAT.
But the not-for-profit organization does a lot more than allow you to take college entrance exams. Its tools and resources just might help you decide where you go to college and how you pay for it.
Who should use CollegeBoard.org?
The College Board is home to some of the best data about how we educate teens and 20-somethings in the U.S. today. That’s because it’s led by members of 6,000-plus colleges, universities, and other institutions.
It’s also a go-to resource for high school teachers, administrators, and other professionals in the field of education. For example, there is an online community for teachers of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The College Board created AP to give high school students the opportunity to receive credit for college-level classes at a lower cost.
But it’s no surprise that the primary users of the website are the students themselves. CollegeBoard.org claims that it helps more than 7 million students each year make the jump from high school to college.
Because it’s the only gateway to college entrance exams like the SAT, high school juniors and seniors are directed to use the website by their high school’s college counselors. Once logged in, you’ll find free resources on college planning and career mapping.
Getting started: Create an account
You can roam CollegeBoard.org without creating an account. And nobody would blame you, especially after The Washington Post recently questioned the College Board’s position on data privacy.
But signing up for an account is necessary to:
- Register for the SAT and CLEP exams and print your admission tickets
- Access your SAT and AP scores and send them to schools
- Build and manage your list of preferred colleges
- Create and save your college scholarship searches
Signing up is an easy process. It took me less than five minutes to complete. You’ll be asked for your basic personal information and will choose your high school from a drop-down menu.
You could also include your parent’s information so that they receive the same updates you do, plus a monthly newsletter containing information about SAT prep and college planning.
6 reasons to use CollegeBoard.org
Once you’ve signed into College Board, you’ll be welcomed onto the site by your first name and grade level. If you’re an 11th-grader named Andrew, for example, here’s what you’ll see upon logging in for the first time:
If you’re a junior, you’ll also receive a season-by-season checklist to prepare for college. You’ll be advised, for example, to:
- Sign up for the PSAT in the fall
- Sign up for the SAT in the winter
- Create a list of 15 to 20 college choices in the spring
- Visit your preferred colleges over the summer
No matter your year in school, there are many useful free tools and resources on the site. Here are the six things College Board does best.
1. Register and prep for the SAT
The SAT is a standardized test used all over the country by colleges and universities to compare applicants. High school juniors and seniors take the grueling exam, each chasing that perfect 1,600 score.
On the College Board, you can:
- Register: It takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
- Choose a test date: Sixty-seven percent of students do better on their second try, reported the College Board
- Study up on the test’s content: The test has sections on reading, writing, language, and math.
- Send scores to your preferred colleges: The first four submissions are free.
CollegeBoard.org has also partnered with the Khan Academy on SAT prep, meaning you won’t have to rely on thick paperback books or expensive prep courses. Using Khan Academy’s platform, you can set up your own schedule, identify your weaknesses, and take up to eight practice tests.
Aside from the SAT, you can also order the following tests on CollegeBoard.org:
- Preliminary SAT 8/9: Eighth- and ninth-graders get their feet wet with an introduction to pre-college exams.
- Preliminary SAT 10/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT): High school students can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program by recording eligible scores.
- College-Level Examination Program (CLEP): They can also earn college credit by passing any of 33 exams.
2. Learn about and explore AP courses
Although all AP placement and learning takes place at your high school, CollegeBoard.org is the one-stop shop to:
- Learn how to approach teachers about enrolling if they haven’t approached you.
- Consider the benefits, such as college credit and improving your college application.
- Explore specific courses, from art history to calculus and beyond.
The site is particularly useful for finding the courses you might be interested in taking. If you think you might major in journalism down the road, for example, you could explore CollegeBoard.org’s guide to AP English Literature and Composition.
Taking that course as a high school junior or senior might mean you can cross off a general education requirement once you arrive on your college campus. It could also be a test for whether you truly enjoy the written word.
Beyond AP prep, the College Board is also the place to find out how you performed on your AP tests. Colleges and universities look at your scores when deciding whether to grant you college credit.
To match your scores to your College Board profile, you’ll need to enter your AP number and student ID. You should have received both when you enrolled in an AP course.
3. Build your list of preferred colleges
The College Board also has a lot of resources on preparing for the future. You’ll be moved to a section of the College Board site known as BigFuture when learning about your higher-education opportunities.
The College Board doesn’t have the market cornered on comparing colleges. Other established companies, from The Princeton Review to Fastweb, offer the same filters to narrow down your list of preferred schools. After all, filters like school type, cost, and admission statistics are among the top factors to consider when choosing a college.
The difference at BigFuture is that it offers instruction about how to think about these categories before beginning your college search. For each category, you might benefit from asking questions like:
- Am I limiting my choices by focusing on whether a college is public or private?
- How close to home do I want to be? Close enough for meals and laundry, to visit on weekends, or to only come home on breaks?
- Do I see myself at a college with lots of students or in a smaller community?
- Will I qualify for financial aid?
- What are my favorite school subjects? What do I like doing when I’m not in class?
- Do I prefer to be part of small group discussions or to listen to lectures? How much interaction do I want with my professors?
Answering these questions first will help you be more efficient in whittling down your college choices from 3,715 to 15 or 20. You can be as specific as you see fit, from zeroing in on schools that accept a certain SAT score range, offer a certain amount of financial aid, or have a certain sport or club activity on campus.
As you’re clicking through schools, you’ll see brochure-like campus photos and hard data about the school. If financial aid is your (or your parent’s) top concern, you can use that statistic to compare schools. Kansas State University, for example, awarded an average of $12,682 per student. The rival University of Kansas checked in at $15,269.
At this stage, you’re evaluating schools, not discarding them from consideration over one factor. The College Board’s tool is meant for:
- Adding preferred schools to your college list
- Comparing up to three colleges side by side
- Using the academic tracker to see if your grades and test scores are on pace for admission
4. Study up on majors and career paths
More useful for high school seniors than juniors, the College Board can help you find your future major. It works under the assumption that your future career is a sum of your current interests.
Whether you agree with this line of thinking, the College Board offers an array of resources centered around its major and career search engine. Pretty much every imaginable job has a profile page detailing:
- What to expect in classes for that major
- Characteristics that might make you a fit
- Considerations when reviewing colleges for that major
The upside of this section of the site is that if you’re not ready to get down to specifics, you can browse different career paths. Click on interesting keywords and go down the rabbit hole of one before coming up for another that might interest you.
No one expects you to decide on a major, let alone a career, after reviewing the site’s free resources. But your research here just might inform your decision down the road.
5. Learn how to finance your way through school
CollegeBoard.org is not pretending to be the definitive source on how to finance your years of college. It does, however, have content on everything from filling out the FAFSA and securing grants to considering private student loans and comparing financial aid packages.
If you’d rather learn by doing, use your time toying with three interactive tools to estimate and plan for the costs of going to school.
|Tool||Question it answers||What you need||Best for…|
|College savings calculator||Are you saving enough to afford school?||Estimated college costs and current college savings||Middle and high school students and their parents|
|Student loan calculator||Will you be able to afford your postgraduate student loan payments?||Anticipated graduation year, projected salary, and your student loan debt||High school seniors and college underclassmen who are wary of choosing a major that leads to a low-paying career|
|Compare your aid awards||Which of your top schools offers the best aid package?||Cost of attendance and financial aid awards from up to four different schools||High school seniors who have already received college award letters|
This might seem like getting too far ahead of the game if you’re in 11th or 12th grade, or the parent of someone who is. But the faster you can answer these questions, the more prepared you’ll be to pay for school.
6. Search and apply for college scholarships
The calculators and tools in the “Pay for College” section of CollegeBoard.org might add some urgency to your scholarship search. Fortunately, the site also offers a useful scholarship search tool.
In fact, the College Board claims it has access to 2,200 aid programs offering nearly $6 billion in awards.
To narrow it down, you can enter personal information to see which scholarships might be best fits for you. There are scholarships geared toward minorities, students with disabilities, and students meeting other special conditions.
There’s nothing especially unique about this tool. It’s best to combine it with other scholarship tools that can help you find money for college.
Making a plan at the College Board
If those six areas of focus seemed like an overload, worry not. The College Board dedicates a part of its site to making a plan, whether you’re a seventh-grader just learning about college or a senior in high school who’s already chosen a school.
If your brain needs a break, you’ll also appreciate the Mad Libs-style quiz that will help you build out a personalized plan.
The five-question quiz will ask you about your:
- Grade level
- Experience searching for colleges
- Knowledge about financing college
- Preferences for two- or four-year schools
- Reason for looking forward to college
Taking your answers into account, your dashboard will list interactive activities. You might watch a video about talking to college counselors or go through an exercise to help narrow down your choice of major.
It’s a good spot to resort to on CollegeBoard.org when you feel bombarded with all of the pre-college information you have to digest. The planning function makes a checklist of everything else on the site, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time and move through the content at your own pace.
The College Board is not a perfect platform, but it does cater to users who aren’t sure about next steps just as it helps users who know exactly what they’re looking for.
It’s free. It’s there when you need it. And if you (or your child) is in high school, you’ll need it soon.
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