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  • Writer's pictureAlison Merzel

Tips for researching colleges from home - Part 3

Last week I gave you some suggestions for researching colleges for academic and social fit. Building an appropriate college list requires careful assessment of financial fit. As families are increasingly uncertain about their financial future, it is important that you have a full understanding of the expected cost to attend college and potential debt you may assume if you need to borrow money to help pay for your child's college education. While some of the other tools I have shared are helpful to generate initial lists, I would use the following tools to further explore the schools you have identified.

Here are three great resources for looking at how colleges may work within your budget.

1) College Scorecard - While the College Navigator tool I referenced in an earlier post helps students find colleges based on a variety of factors that are important to them, the U.S. Department of Education has another tool that is more focused on affordability. Both of these tools are part of a suite of resources that the Department of Education has called the College Affordability and Transparency Center. The College Scorecard tool enables you to look up colleges and compare various data points including average annual cost, graduation rates, and salary ranges upon graduation. The tool gives you a cost estimate that changes based on family income. It also shows percentage of students receiving loans, the typical monthly loan payment and the mean debt after graduation. The site enables you to calculate your personal net price by linking you to the college's net price calculator.

2) Data USA - Data USA refers to themselves as "the most comprehensive website and visualization engine of public US Government data." You can find all sorts of data here about anything in America you might be interested in researching, but for our purposes, there is a universities section. Here you can look up two schools, for example, and see a visually clean side-by-side comparison of data on each school including tuition costs, average net price, other student expenses, financial aid data by income, etc.

3) College Data - In addition to providing facts and figures about admissions, academic offering, campus life and the student body, you will have a whole "money matters" tab when you research a school here. In addition to cost of attendance information and contact information for the school's financial aid office, you will see information about the financial aid application process and statistics on aid awarded to both the most recent freshmen class and the overall student body.

You should also consult each college's own website for their admissions and financial aid data; it is just not as easy to compare to other schools or look at it multiple data points when you research this way.

When you get further involved with the admissions process, you will absolutely want to be in touch with the financial aid officers of the schools you are considering. Colleges and universities want and need students to enroll - this will be even more true in the face of a global pandemic - once your student is offered admission, the job of financial aid officers is to help assess your financial situation and work to the extent possible to make it affordable for your student to attend.

College Scorecard example

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