How to Use the College Scorecard to Pick Your Best School

college scorecard

Your college experience should be everything you want it to be, and it all starts with picking the right school.

It might be the college you’ve had your heart set on for years. Or it might be a school you’ve never even heard of before. There’s only one sure way to find out – by using the College Scorecard.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains this interactive online tool that serves as the most reliable database for you to search more than 4,000 colleges by the things that matter to you the most.

Start your search

The first step is to go to CollegeScorecard.edu.gov. As you’ll see right away, it’s a simple, user-friendly site that lets you jump right into your search by the following criteria:

Programs/degrees

Search by 2-year associate’s and 4-year bachelor’s degrees, and choose from dozens of programs of study.

Location

Filter by state, region, and zip code. You can even search by a specific radius from your target zip code.

Size

Search by undergraduate student bodies with fewer than 2,000 people, between 2,000 and 15,000 people, and more than 15,000 people.

Name

Filter by name for any target schools you already have in mind.

Advanced search

Search by type of school – public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit. You can also search by a specialized mission and religious affiliation.

Fine-tune your results

The number of results the College Scorecard turns up will depend on the choices you made in your original search criteria. It could turn up hundreds of colleges, or it could show you fewer than a dozen.

Either way, once your results page turns up, you’ll see three options for tweaking things to either broaden or narrow your results.

Sort results

You can sort school search results by:

· Percentage of the college’s graduates who are earning more than high school graduates

· Average annual cost

· Graduation rate

· Salary after attending

· Name (sorting from A to Z)

· Size (sorting from small to large)

Filter results

You can filter school search results by average annual cost, graduation rate, and salary after attending.

Edit search

You need not go back to the original search page to make tweaks to your search results. A pull-down menu lets you make adjustments right there on the results page.

Compare College Scorecards

All of this searching, sorting, and filtering is aimed at getting you to the individual College Scorecards.

Every school in the database has one. And each is formatted exactly the same to make for easy comparison.

The more you look at a college scorecard, the easier it will become because you’ll be looking at the same thing in the same place every time.

That said, there appears to be no way of saving search results or doing side-by-side comparisons. So it’s a good idea to create an Excel spreadsheet for keeping track of your top colleges.

You can also bookmark (and print) College Scorecard pages.

Here’s what you’ll find on your College Scorecards:

The basics

· School website

· Degree types

· School type

· Location

· Size

· Average annual cost

· Graduation rate

· Salary after attending

Detailed breakdowns

Your college scorecard will then go more in-depth regarding the following topics.

Cost

· How the cost compares to the national average

· Average cost by family income

· Tool for calculating your personal net price

Financial aid and debt

· Percentage of students receiving federal loans

· Typical total debt

· Typical monthly loan payment

· Percentage of students paying off their debt

· How that percentage compares to the national average

· Link to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Graduation and retention

· Graduation rate

· Percentage of students who return after their first year

· How these numbers compare to the national average

Earnings after school

· Salary upon graduation and how it compares to the national average

· Percentage of their college graduates earning more than a high school graduate

Student body

· Number of undergraduates currently attending

· Percentage of students who are full-time and part-time

· Percentage of students who have a family income of less than $40,000

· Race/ethnicity breakdown by percentage of the school’s population

SAT/ACT scores

· Typical SAT test score ranges in critical reading, math, and writing

· Typical ACT test score ranges

Academic programs

· Available areas of study

· Most popular programs

That said, every College Scorecard isn’t completely filled out. You may find that some of the schools that turn up in your search results show “Data not available” for some categories – like average annual cost and graduation rate – particularly for smaller schools.

Now, that’s not to say you should write off a school just because a piece of data is unavailable on the College Scorecard. You can always call their admissions office and ask.

Rank your top picks

What you will not get from the College Scorecard is the U.S. Department of Education ranking of schools.

This is not a tool intended to determine whether any one school is better or worse than another. Rather, it’s intended only as a means of providing the facts.

Only you can know which set of facts determine the schools that rank best for you.

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