New Tool in Town
Well, it’s not perfect, but Supermatch does get some critical things right, in my opinion. Here’s the review I promised of this new tool from Hobson’s.
Right off the top, Supermatch puts individual searchers in the driver’s seat with a left-hand sidebar of 19 different possible variable clusters that one might consider to be important to a successful college search. A few of the ones towards the end trend towards useless because they’re not dependably quantifiable. “Liberal Leaning,” “Party Scene” and “Great College Town” all seem like the sort of thing I’d want to assess on my own… too subjective to be included in this kind of search. Similarly, while I’m all in favor of students assessing the extent to which a campus feels LGBTQ-friendly, the Supermatch search doesn’t seem to be tapping in to the good work that is already being done in this field, relying instead on “Data collected from the community of users on CollegeConfidential.com and confirmed by college admissions experts.” Not inspiring of confidence, at least not to me. I would rather have had some more ability to sift through student demographics, something to help me look for socio-economic and/or regional diversity, maybe.
But the bulk of the search operators work largely as intended, and the addition of the ability to weight factors as being “must have”, “very important” or “kinda important,” moves us in the direction of a truly personalized result. “Location” smartly lets the searcher pick a region, individual states, or some combination thereof, and the “Campus Setting” option set is one of the more robust I’ve seen, breaking the known universe down into six categories instead of the more typical three or four.
The inclusion of a graduation rate category is a great idea, but the execution is flawed, so far… instead of being able to use a slider bar or two to identify the range of graduation rates within which you’d be willing to work, you’re given a toggled choice (either you care about going somewhere where most students graduate or you don’t). Similarly, the “Gender Mix” button doesn’t really allow you to investigate the gender mix at a school (for that, you’d need another slider bar that let you indicate the range you’d be willing to work within, e.g. my school must have at least 60% women)… it just lets you search for either co-ed or single-sex institutions. I am hoping down the line that more search organizers allow searchers to specify a range of acceptable answers, rather than offering up pre-defined boxes. CampusCompare has the right idea here with its flexible search options for categories like “number of students” and “tuition range.” And in the next version can we please specify Division I, II, and/or III when using a sports search? (The CollegeBoard’s MatchMaker gets this one right.) Students who are hoping to play at the DIII level are not going to want to torture themselves with not-actually-an-option DI schools.
The most important missing search functions from this and many other college search tools are the ones related to financial aid. Average amount of indebtedness, percentage of students receiving aid, degree to which 100% of demonstrated need is met, and other quantifiable snapshots of what kind of financial support students are receiving would be a game-changing addition to most existing search tools. Which is why I keep coming back to the NCES College Navigator. While somewhat graphically challenged in comparison to some of the shinier private sector options, it still has some of the most robust data on graduation rates and financial aid. As a friend of mine once said, “How long, and how much?”
Other factors to like about Supermatch include the ability to re-weight your criteria on the fly through a drag-and-drop interface, and the “view map” option which is great for those of us whose primary school geography lessons were lacking. In an ideal world, search results would be more portable, too… printable and/or downloadable. I hope the folks at Hobson’s keep tinkering, and I’d love to know what you think. If you have a second to give Supermatch a whirl, go for it, then tell them your ideas for Supermatch 2.0...