At some point during the college search and financial aid search, your head may be exploding from all the numbers. But data can be crucial to finding a college with the right fit - and one that’s a good investment. Here’s what to look for:
1. Graduation rates
Graduation rates are a telling indicator of the college’s ability to recruit and keep students until graduation. They are also an indicator of the college’s success in helping students attain individual goals. If a college has a graduation rate below 50 percent, you should consider whether or not it is a good investment.
A college that boosts a high graduation rate is committed to recruiting and keeping students.
2. Freshman retention rates
Freshman year is a difficult transition year for students. A college with a high freshman retention rate means the college values its students and works hard to keep them there. Many unhappy students will transfer, which can have a significant impact on college spending if, for example, a student has to make up credits lost when changing schools.
College Navigator is a good source for viewing freshmen retention rates.
3. Financial aid stats
The best, and most logical way, to save money on college is to receive financial aid from the college itself. A college’s financial aid percentages are the best indicator of how much aid the college typically gives to accepted students. But delve deeper into this percentage: How much of that need is student loans and work study and how much is true financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants?
Check on College Navigator for a specific college, click on the “financial aid” tab and view the percentages and type of aid. Look for colleges with a high percentage of aid in the form of grants and scholarships rather than loans.
4. Net price calculators.
The net price calculators posted by Individual colleges vary based on method and forumula. Try this one from the U.S. Department of Education.
5. College-posted test scores and GPAs
Look either on the college website itself or on college databases mentioned above for the average test scores and GPAs of incoming freshmen. Why are these important? In order to have the best chance of receiving merit aid, a student needs to meet or exceed these numbers. Someone with higher test scores or a high GPA will be more likely to receive merit aid than a student who barely meets the minimum requirements.
If your student is at the top of the applicant pool, the college will use merit aid as an enticement. Look for colleges where your student exceeds the test scores and average GPA if you want to receive more financial aid.