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4 Things You Should Consider When Choosing A College

A college or career school education = more money, more job options, and more freedom. Yet, with more than 7,000 colleges and universities nationwide, deciding which college is right for you can be difficult. Maybe you want to find a school with the best nursing program, or study abroad options, or the best college basketball team; every person values different things. However, it’s also important to remember that college is one of the biggest financial investments you will make in yourself. Just as important as academics and extracurricular activities are the financial factors: how much a college costs, whether students are likely to graduate on time, and, if alumni are able to find good jobs and pay off their loans. That is why the U.S. Department of Education developed the College Scorecard ( It provides clear information to answer all of your questions regarding college costs, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings.

As you’re comparing colleges, use the College Scorecard to compare these four things:

1. Net Cost

For starters, you should consider how much you’ll actually be paying on an annual basis. That’s not necessarily the sticker price, but it’s the sticker price minus all of the scholarships and grants that you will receive when enrolling in an institution. This is called the net price, and it’s important because it’s the average amount students actually pay out of pocket. The College Scorecard can show you the average net price of each school compared to the national average. It can also give you a net price estimate for each school broken down by family income.

2. Graduation Rate

Next, you should consider a school’s graduation rate as a factor when choosing a college. College graduation rates refer to the percentage of undergraduate students who complete their program within 150 percent of the standard time for the program. For example, for a four-year degree program, entering students who complete their degrees within six years are counted in that school’s graduation rate. You want to attend a college that has a high graduation rate. A college’s graduation rate gives a good indication if students who attend that institution are likely to end up with a degree. Retention rate is the percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. For example, a student who studies full-time in the fall semester and keeps on studying in the program in the next fall semester is counted in this rate. The College Scorecard can help you find schools that have a high rate of success among their students from a particular college.

3. Students Paying Down Their Debt

In addition to costs, you may consider if students are able to repay their loans after attending a college or career school. The Scorecard can help you find out the amount of debt that you can expect to take on at an institution and the percentage of students who are able to repay that debt upon leaving. This is one of the most important factors to consider, as you may not want to attend an institution where you are expected to take out lots of loans and have little chance of repaying them in the future.

4. Post-College Earnings

With the cost of college continuing to increase, salary has become a critical factor students and families take into account when considering college choices. Knowing how much students typically earn after attending an institution will help you find out if students were able to find a good paying job, pay off their student loans, and have a financially secure future. Luckily, the Scorecard contains comprehensive and reliable data on post-college earnings for students who attended all types of undergraduate institutions. The new Scorecard includes:

  • The proportion of former students earning over $25,000, which is the average earnings of high school graduates; and

  • The median earnings of students 10 years after they enroll in a particular college.

A college degree is the best investment you can make for your future. It’s important that you choose a school that will give you the skills and a degree that employers value, while allowing you to earn a comfortable living.

Are you ready to begin your college search? If so, visit the College Scorecard today!

Michael Itzkowitz serves as the Director of the College Scorecard at the U.S. Department of Education.

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