The College Search: Researching Financial Fit
When researching colleges and narrowing your list, don't forget one important, but often overlooked, factor: financial fit. You and your family need to make sure that you have options on your list that you can afford. This includes finding schools that are financially realistic even if you don't receive significant scholarships or financial aid. And also determining the schools that may provide enough financial aid to make paying the college bill possible even if the sticker price starts out high. You'll need to find out each school's gross cost, estimated net cost, and the levels of financial aid available. The following checklist will help guide you through the tools and information you need to properly find schools that are the best financial fit for you.
- Check the College Scorecard
Use the College Scorecard to find out more about a college's affordability and value. All figures are based on the populations of students who received federal financial aid.
- Start at: collegescorecard.ed.gov
- Search for schools by name, size, location, or programs/degrees
- For each school you will see:
- Average annual cost
- Graduation rate within 6 years (3 years for community colleges)
- Average salary of former students 10 years after entering the school
- You should also click on:
- This will provide you with more detail on the average annual cost, broken down by income level.
- Financial Aid & Debt
- This will give you information about the typical federal loan debt and typical monthly loan payment of graduates
- Earnings After School
- This includes the percentage of former students earning more than the average high school graduate without a college degree.
2. Use a School's Net Price Calculator (NPC)
A Net Price Calculator is available on every U.S. college and university's website and allows you to enter information about yourself and your family to find out an estimate of the financial aid you could receive, and the resulting net cost you will pay, at that school. The information is based on what students like you paid to attend the institution in the previous year.
- Start at: https://collegecost.ed.gov/net-price and search for a school by name
- Another option is to go to the college or university's website and search for "Net Price Calculator"
- Each schools NPC's may ask for different information
- Schools that award merit-based aid may ask for GPA, SAT/ACT score, & intended major
- Schools that award need-based aid will ask for family income and asset information
- The net price provided by the NPC will give you an idea of what your family may need to pay for one year at that school. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate. Your actual financial aid and net cost will depend on each school's resources and enrollment goals in the year in which you apply.
3. Read through Admissions and Financial Aid Websites
It's a good idea to read through the admissions and financial aid websites of each school, as you may find out additional information, such as details about merit scholarship and different financing opportunities. You will also find contact information for each office and should reach out by phone or email with ANY questions.
Amy Staffier is the Director of Financial Aid at Simmons College in Boston where she serves their undergraduate, graduate, and online students. Prior to working at Simmons, she spent 21 years working in the Admissions and Financial Aid office at Harvard College, most recently as the Associate Director of Financial Aid, Admissions Officer, and University Director of the Federal Work-Study Program. Amy firmly believes in sharing the knowledge she has. She has spent the last 18 years volunteering her time helping families navigate the financial aid process through presentations at local high schools, FAFSA Day workshops, and simply sitting down one on one to personally walk them through applying for aid and comparing offers.