As we approach the end of summer, it is important to reflect on ways that we can all support students and families preparing to attend college next year. For the first time this fall, students are able to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning on October 1st. This earlier date allows students to explore further financial aid options before most college’s deadlines. As a result, students will have more college options than in the past.
On average there are 482 high school students for every college counselor, each looking for their own set of advice in regards to the college application process. In addition to those students who have overworked counselors there are many youth and adults who are deciding to return to school and who lack access to free college counseling. For these reasons, in September 2015, the U.S. Department of Education redesigned the College Scorecard to provide the clearest, most accessible, and most reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This tool was improved with feedback from students, families, and counselors to help ensure that families and future postsecondary students make the most informed decisions when choosing a college.
The College Scorecard can be easily used for free by any individual looking for more information on two or four year colleges. Once on the website, students are able to search and compare schools by a variety of factors. Examples of these factors include school size, major, location, or colleges with a special mission such as a Hispanic-serving institution or a religious affiliation. Once a student selects the criteria that they are interested in, they are able to view a college’s specific Scorecard.
The first half of a college’s Scorecard provides information regarding the cost of college. The cost of college is partly defined by how much a student’s family makes in a year. If a student’s family makes less income, they may end up having to pay less to attend certain schools. They should also consider how much financial aid they will receive and the average amount that a student owes after graduation. The Scorecard also provides access to a school’s net price calculator, graduation rates and student retention, and a student’s average earnings after graduation. This information allows students to compare the cost of a college with the expected benefits after graduation.
The other part of the Scorecard helps students identify whether a college would be the best fit. To help a student determine this, the Scorecard provides information on the school’s demographics as well as standards for acceptance into the school. The Scorecard includes student ratios by gender and race, average ACT/SAT scores, and five most popular majors.
As we prepare for the new school year this fall, it is important that we all make the time to share the College Scorecard with all future college students. The College Scorecard will assist students with their college decisions and help them select a school that will give them the best value for their dollar. Everyone will find the College Scorecard useful, whether it is a high-school senior entering college for the first time, a parent returning to finish their degree, a young adult pursuing a certificate or a parent seeking to be better informed. The College Scorecard is there for everybody and can be used in the matter of just a few minutes.
In a similar effort as the Scorecard, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently hosted Demo Day for the Reach Higher Career App Challenge on July 7, 2016. This challenge asked teams to create an app to help middle and high school students better navigate postsecondary school options and future career path decisions. The apps are designed to meet the needs of all students, including those in a career and technical education pathway, English Learners and students with disabilities. The winner of the app challenge will be announced by the end of the summer and the challenge details can be found on www.reachhigherchallenge.com. The apps that were created can be used as a supplemental resource to the College Scorecard to help students make the most informed career and education pathway choices during this important time of the year.
Lauren Hubbard is a rising junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Economics with a minor in Sociology. This summer, she interned with the Office of the Assistant Secretary within OCTAE.