Applying for college is one of the most exciting experiences you’ll ever have, but it can also be nerve-wracking. After all, there are thousands of colleges and universities across the country, and plenty of good ones, too.
So how do you choose the right college for you?
Well, here’s a little secret: College Scorecard can make things easier by showing you the stats that matter, including the average annual cost for each school, post-graduation salaries, and average student loan debt.
In a statement to Money Under 30, a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Education said: “For the first time since 2018, the Department is publishing institution-level earnings data, which provide an overall sense of the career outcomes for alumni of the institution.”
This, in turn, can aid your decision-making by allowing you to see which school can lead to the best career outcomes, without breaking the bank. Here’s how.
What is College Scorecard?
College Scorecard is an online tool created by the Department of Education, to help prospective students (like yourself) make informed decisions when it comes to choosing a post-secondary institution.
The website features both institution-level data, as well as data by field of study, which means you not only get an overview of the colleges’ cost, graduation rates, and average median earnings of alumni — among other things — but also see outcomes by major.
What’s awesome about College Scorecard is that it works sort of like an online marketplace (think Amazon or eBay), but for college.
You’ll find individual stats from over 5,000 colleges across the country, plus you can click and compare both institutions and majors side-by-side to pick the one with the best outcomes.
College Scorecard is completely free, and you can access it by visiting collegescorecard.ed.gov.
How College Scorecard can help you choose the best college for you
Look for schools based on proximity, graduation rates, admissions, and more
According to a recent survey by U.S. News, college applications can cost between $45 and $100 a pop (that’s just the application!). While these amounts may seem insignificant, they can quickly add up to a few hundred dollars or more, depending on how many schools you wish to try your luck with.
If you want to save money, and make the most out of each application by limiting your options to schools that meet certain criteria, College Scorecard can help you narrow down your list.
You can look up stats from just about any school you’re already interested in, as well as browse schools by major, how far they are from where you live, highest graduation rates, percentage of applicants who get in — or all three, among other choices.
Here’s an example of how this works.
If you just go into College Scorecard’s general search bar, you’ll see that there are over 5,600 institutions to choose from across the country.
However, if you’re only interested in schools that offer a bachelor’s degree in computer science, for instance, your search results are automatically reduced to less than 700 institutions, as you can see below.
You can also refine your search even further by sorting the results by alphabetical order, graduation rate, average annual cost, and percentage of alumni who earn more than those in the same field with only a high school diploma.
Weigh different majors
When I started my college application process, I was torn between being a biology or a chemistry major. Ultimately, I chose chemistry as I saw more career potential (although I ended up switching again). But if you’re in a similar predicament and can’t decide which major you want to go for, here’s how College Scorecard can lend a hand.
When you go to the top right corner of the website, you’ll see these two icons:
The one with the small building on the left allows you to compare institutions (more on that later), while the one with the ribbon on the right allows you to compare different majors, using these three metrics:
- Salary upon graduation.
- Average student loan debt amongst graduates.
- Number of students who have successfully completed the program.
The major comparison tool is especially useful when you’re trying to decide between two majors that are closely related (like the ones shown below), as it can help you choose the one with the best career outcomes.
You can also use this tool to compare how students majoring in the same program but at different universities have done post-graduation. This can be super helpful if you’ve already decided on a major — but not a university — and want to choose the one with the most successful alumni.
Compare colleges side-by-side
Remember the green icon on the left with the small building? That’s College Scorecard’s school comparison tool.
The site’s school comparison tool allows you to see stats from up to 10 colleges and compare them side-by-side.
Some of the stats you’ll be able to compare include:
- Average annual cost.
- Graduation rate.
- Median post-graduation earnings.
- Socio-economic diversity.
- Student diversity.
- Average test scores and acceptance rate.
- Percentage of students receiving federal student loans.
- Average debt after graduation.
- Average student loan monthly payment.
- Repayment rate.
Besides that, you’ll also see general information about the schools, including how large the student body is, whether it’s public, private nonprofit, or for-profit, as well as if the school is located in a city, rural, or suburban area.
In other words, you’ll be able to get a comprehensive overview of each of the schools you’re interested in.
This, in turn, will allow you to narrow down your application pool, or make a final pick (if you’re in the final stages), based on which institution better fits your background, household’s finances, and post-grad expectations.
You can also look up information on associate degrees and certificate programs
Not everyone is interested in pursuing a four-year degree once they finish high school, and that’s okay, too. Those with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans may even say that’s the smarter decision.
Read more: College vs. trade school — which one is right for you?
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with an associate degree earn over $46,000 a year, which is about $8K more than those with just a high school diploma. Meanwhile, some certificates can lead to salaries of up to $74,845 a year, according to Indeed.
If you’re interested in pursuing any of these options, just go to College Scorecard’s homepage and click “show me options.”
There, you’ll be able to check the type of education program you wish to pursue, and your results will be narrowed by the schools that offer that type of program. You can also refine your search by academic field and location, just to name a few.
Why it’s important to weigh your options before choosing a college
When I was picking colleges a few years back, I overlooked two major factors: how much my college of choice was going to cost, and the average early career earnings for my field of study.
This resulted in a massive amount of student loan debt, coupled with a less-than-stellar salary — both of which forced me to put things like buying a house or starting a family on the back burner for several years.
Read more: How to manage student loan debt
That’s why it’s so important to get all the pieces together before deciding on a school, to ensure you’re getting a valuable — and affordable — education that can lead to a successful career.
Going to college is a major milestone that will change your life forever. When weighing your options, make sure you pick a school that not only adjusts to your academic needs and career expectations, but also one whose alumni have done well beyond their college years.
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