Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 4 / APRIL 1985 / PAGE 93

College Explorer; a valuable computer aid to choosing a college - for Apple, IBM, and TRS-80 computers. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.

Every year hundreds of thousands of high school seniors make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives: What college shall I go to? This decision is influenced by many objective and subjective factors: guidebooks, campus visits, opinions of family and friends, location, curriculum offered, and scores of others. Unfortunately, most students do not have the patience to wade through the descriptions of the nearly 3000 colleges in the U.S. to determine which ones best meet their requirements. Nor do guidance counselors who may have 100 or more students to advise. Enter the computer. In 1973, the Educational Testing Service devised a program, SIGI, for students to use in selecting a college or career. It ran on a fairly large PDP-11 configuration; thus relatively few systems were installed, mostly in large school districts and at community colleges.

Today, however, with the increasing capacity of microcomputers, it is possible to put a college selection package such as The College Explorer into a much smaller machine. The program and database are still quite sizable; the Apple version, for example, requires a 64K machine.

The Apple package includes five disks. Disk 1 (the main program) is protected, and a backup is provided. Disks 2, 3, and 4 (data and utilities) can be copied. The program output is keyed to college descriptions in the 1800-page College Handbook, which is included with the package. Two copies of a 20-page student manual are included along with two student worksheets (schools will want to copy the worksheets). There is also a 7-page counselor manual, a sheet of technical specifications, and a warranty card (which must be returned to get annual updated editions of the databases at the reduced price of $119).

The College Explorer allows a user to develop a personal college perference profile made up of the features most important to him. The profile can be reviewed and modified until it accurately reflects his interests. The computer will then search through a list of colleges and universities to find those that match the profile.

When Disk 1 is loaded it asks the user's name, sex, and the date. Then a menu is presented which allows him to go to a tutorial instruction session, build a profile, review or modify the profile, reload a previous profile, or end the session. Using the program is simplicity itself. There are only two active keys: spacebar to move to various menu items and Return to choose an item.

The College Explorer uses 12 factors that high school students frequently cite as important in selecting a college:

* Degree level (Bachelor or Associate)

* Curriculum categories (the back of the student manual lists over 400 categories and majors)

* Location (by region or state)

* College setting (from rural to large city)

* Private/Public/Religious

* Male, female, or coed

* Enrollment size

* Admissions policy (admits less that half of all applicants, more than half, or all high school graduates)

* College housing available

* Special programs (accelerated study, honors program, employment service, handicapped facilities, and many others)

* Athletics (intercollegiate or intramural for specified sports)

* Student activities (10 choices)

If the user has no preference for a particular factor, it can be skipped. Also, the instructions note that choosing just one option under certain factors, say enrollment size, can be very limiting; in those cases a range is recommended such as the option one prefers plus one smaller or larger.

After all the options have been entered, the program directs the user to insert a data disk. The package includes data on 1755 colleges offering associate's degrees and 1659 offering bachelor's degrees. The search is then initiated and, at the end of each region, a summary appears showing the number of colleges eliminated by each factor and the total number of colleges meeting all of one's criteria (see Figure 1).

At the end of the search, several options are presented: modify the profile, print (or display) the colleges found, save the profile on disk, or start over (for the next user). A Broadening Experience

We found it very easy to use the program; the tutorial at the beginning was scarcely necessary. The 20-page student manual is easy to understand. Like the tutorial, it is practically unnecessary except for the list of curriculum categories and majors in the Appendix.

The instruction manual states that a good goal is 20 to 30 colleges to be examined in more detail. With no prompting other than that provided by the program, one college-bound junior ran the program and came up with a list of 21 possible schools. She then changed a few factors and added some states, and the program produced 28 possibilities.

The other students who tried the program also produced workable lists and, as a whole, felt they learned a great deal by using the program. One thought the program was in error because a particular college didn't appear on his list; however, he learned to his surprise that one of his chosen options was not a feature of that college, and it was removed during the search.

In all, we felt the package was easy to learn, easy to use, and well designed to produce workable results for most users. Students enjoyed using the program, and, most important, felt the results broadened their horizons in selecting a college with a curriculum that would mesh with their interests.

Products: College Explorer (computer program)