College scorecard

6 ways the College Scorecard can help you choose the right school for you

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With nearly 6,000 colleges and universities to consider, finding the ideal school can be time consuming and overwhelming. Fortunately, the Department of Education’s interactive College Scorecard tool can simplify the process.

With a few clicks, you can compare as many schools as you want, using various university ranking metrics such as total cost, location, population, majors available, graduation stats, and more.

Let’s take a look at the following topics to see how College Scorecard data allows you to compare colleges and recent changes in this handy tool:

How to use the College Scorecard

The College Scorecard lets you compare data across all two-year and four-year schools in the US, and it’s pretty easy to explore. It’s also completely free – you don’t even need to create an account.

Not only will you be able to see essential stats on test scores and retention rates, you’ll also gain insight into financial aidaverage net cost, student demographics, graduate starting salaries and the average student debt upon graduation.

Here are some search features to look at:

  • General: One of the easiest ways to get started is to click the “Search” button in the top right corner of the homepage. A long list of schools is automatically displayed, which you can filter by entering specific details on the left side of the page.
  • Schools: You’ll see this option directly above the navigation bar. Enter the name of a specific school and instantly view key metrics such as graduation rate, average annual cost, and median graduate income. Click the “Show more details” button to dive deeper into the data.
  • Areas of expertise: Above the navigation bar is also an option to enter the desired major and see available schools. (It’s important to note that the listings are based on the United States Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) and may not match a school’s specific program title.)
  • Show me options: A third option above the navigation bar will display checkboxes that make it easier for you to filter by your preferences, including for “schools near me” or institutions where “the most people come in” (meaning an adoption rate of over 50%). You can also select schools that have the type of degree you are interested in.
  • To compare: You can add any of the potential schools to your “compare list” – just look for the gray check mark on each school’s list. Once you’ve picked a few, click on the green school icon in the top right corner of the screen and a comparison table will break down the schools and fields of study based on average annual costs, graduation rates, and other factors.

While you can search a wide variety of data, here are the most common factors to focus on:

1. Net Cost
2. Program, location and size
3. Total student debt
4. Average alumni salary
5. Graduation and Retention Rates
6. Test Scores, Programs, and Student Demographics

Net costs

A school’s average net price is calculated by adding up the expected “cost of attendance” — tuition, books and supplies, living expenses, and other fees — then subtracting the average scholarships and grants previous students received at that school. The final figure is your overall expected cost.

The College Scorecard also shows estimated costs based on household income, so you’ll see one award for families earning less than $30,000, another award for those with incomes from $30.01 to $48,000, and so on.

While these numbers may not exactly match your net price, they still provide valuable insight into what to expect. In addition to the College Scorecard tool, be sure to visit your prospective school’s financial aid website and use all the tools there to get a more detailed estimate of your likely total costs.

You can also contact financial aid officers directly for a more in-depth understanding of their school’s financial needs. And don’t forget to apply for so many scholarships if you can, as these prices can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket costs.

Program, location and size

If you have specific details in mind, the College Scorecard can help narrow your search. For example, you can create a custom list of small colleges with fewer than 2,000 students located within a 100-mile radius of your home.

Here are examples of ways to optimize your searches:

  • Type of school and diploma
  • College program
  • Place
  • Size of school
  • Specialized mission or religious belief

Of course, if you already have some schools in mind, you can still enter them by name in the search field.

And if you’re not sure what you’re looking for in terms of program, size, or location, you can skip to the next step to compare schools based on other metrics.

Total student debt

Another feature that makes the College Scorecard an essential tool is the data on how much debt the average student has upon graduation.

For each school, you can see what percentage of students have received student loans, as well as the median amount of debt and monthly payment after leaving school.

However, you can only read so much into this information. Everyone’s situation is different and the amount you may need to borrow will depend on your specific financial aid package, scholarship awards and whether you are able to juggle a high paying job while in college.

In addition, it is important to remember that these statistics only represent: federal student grants. They don’t tell you how much students owe private student loans – note, however, that private placements make up less than 10% of all outstanding student loans, so excluding them shouldn’t skew the results too much.

Average alumni salary

For each school, you can see how much a graduate who received federal financial aid would normally earn 10 years after first entering school.

While this data is interesting, it may not be particularly relevant to you. While the school you attend may have some impact on your future salary, the major you choose may end up being more relevant.

On the other hand, having that average salary figure can at least make you think about the return on investment (ROI) for your degreeas well as the list of college majors that can lead to the lowest salaries.

Graduation and Retention Rates

The pass rate shows how many full-time students enrolled at a four-year college within six years, or at a two-year college within three years. The retention rate, on the other hand, shows how many freshman, full-time students returned after their freshman year.

While these percentages don’t necessarily reflect a school’s overall success, it’s worth considering. For example, some of the top US universities have a pass rate of 95.2% or higher.

Therefore, seeing a particularly low pass rate or retention rate can be a red flag that the school is not providing adequate support to their students.

Test scores, programs and student demographics

While the College Scorecard is unique for its insight into expenses, debts, and salaries after graduation, it also has the typical data points you would expect from other well-known university comparison sites.

For example, you can see the average SAT and ACT test scores of accepted students (although keep in mind that some schools are considering) phase out admission tests). You can also view student demographics, including information about racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. In addition, you can see the most popular academic programs and whether the school is accredited.

Hopefully, all of this information will help you find a school that meets your academic and lifestyle goals, as well as is within your budget.

Recent updates to university scorecard data

The College Scorecard was originally rolled out in 2013 and has gone through some changes throughout its history. Specifically, it made the following changes in February 2022:

  • Median earnings for alumni: Featured before 2018, this has now been restored to optimize your findings.
  • Diploma vs. Diploma Income: You can now see the percentage of college graduates who earn more than high school graduates.
  • Federal Student Loan Repayment Rates: Annual updates show the most current loan rates, in addition to each school’s cumulative debt statistics.

More tools to choose the right university

When creating your future college list, the College Scorecard can be an indispensable tool. Since it is a Ministry of Education siteit has financial aid and student loan data straight from the source.

But it’s certainly not the only place to find information about future colleges. Also try other resources, such as the great future tool offered by the Executive Boardor the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator.

It is also important to explore the websites of any school you are considering. You can also use a cost-benefit analysis to make sure the rewards are worth the time, effort and money. You might even decide to explore alternatives to universitysuch as a trade school or internship.

In the end, doing the research, reaching colleges and even itinerant campusesbrings you one step closer to finding the right educational path for your future.