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Best Colleges: Use This Tool To Find The Right One For You

There is no single formula for finding a great college. That’s because choosing where to attend is a balancing act between what you value most: a big, bustling school or a small campus? Stay within travel distance to keep costs down, or shell out room and board to attend a better-known school? There are many variables to weigh.

The best school for you will be the one that fits your needs, goals and personal situation, including how much your family can afford, says Raquel Laiz, who works on the college and career readiness team for the Portland School District in Oregon.

“Let’s talk about you, and then we’ll talk about your options,” he tells the students.

To help families make smart financial decisions about where to attend, Money spent months researching college data for our 2019 Best Colleges ranking. However, like any college ranking, it’s based on subjective decisions about what your editors think it’s more important. For us, affordability and the likelihood of getting a good paying job when you leave are paramount.

But your priorities may be different. That’s why we’ve created a college search tool that allows you to rerank our colleges based on four financial questions. Here is a guide to use it.

Use Money’s High Value College Database to create your own list of finalists.

Start with the basics

At each stage of the college search process, you’ll need to decide what’s most important to you, says Ian Fisher, a consultant with College Coach, an educational advisory service. At first, that will probably be deciding on the environment: the location, the type of campus, and the size of the school. The Money interactive begins with these very questions.

Remember that while public and private colleges are funded and managed differently, there are not many differences in the way students experience each type of college. Honors colleges at large public universities can offer close interaction with professors, as can smaller private schools. And some private colleges award significant financial aid, enough to discount their higher sticker prices to competitive levels or lower than state fees for public colleges.

While these questions are the basic ones, admissions experts say you may need to do some research to answer them properly. Stacy Kadesh, who runs a college admissions consulting firm in Danville, California, often recommends students visit any college campus near their home when they’re a freshman or sophomore in high school. That will give you an idea of ​​a large campus versus a small one, for example.

“It’s hard to answer the criteria question if you’re a blank slate,” she says.

Focus on academic interests

Once you’ve created a broad list of schools, you’ll want to start narrowing down your list based on whether you’re likely to get in, with factors like acceptance rate and incoming students’ average scores and GPAs. You’ll also want to narrow it down to colleges that offer the academic programs you’re interested in.

To come up with a list of majors you’d like to pursue, you need to think about both the jobs you’d like to have after college and what will get you there, as well as your favorite interests and subjects. Keep in mind that if you choose a university with few academic programs and end up wanting to switch majors, your options will be limited.

That said, a major doesn’t necessarily equate to a particular job, and career paths are rarely linear. A recent EMSI study that looked at career outcomes from six different academic areas found that jobs in sales, marketing, management, and financial analysis appear in the top ten most popular outcomes for nearly every degree, from language and philosophy to information technology. .

What matters most to you financially

As you enter these criteria, the Money tool produces a personalized college ranking based on your preferences. You can then refine those options based on your financial priorities. You can answer as many reclassification questions as you like. Here is the data we used to weigh each one:

  • How important is it to graduate with little or no student debt? This takes into account both the median debt of student borrowers and the number of on-campus student borrowers. Both figures come from data from the federal College Scorecard.
  • How important is help based on need? To do this, we look at the net price of a year of aid for low-income students, a figure published by the US Department of Education. We also consider the percentage of students with financial need who obtain scholarships and the percentage of need met. Both figures are reported in the Peterson Undergraduate Database.
  • How important is merit aid? If your family makes too much money to qualify for need-based aid, merit aid is one of the only options you have to lower the price of college, Kadesh says. Here we consider the percentage of students receiving merit aid, as well as the average merit award, as reported by Peterson.
  • How important is it to earn a high salary after graduation? This takes into account the average salaries that alumni report to three years after graduation, as well as the median earnings 10 years after entering college, which are published on the College Scorecard.

final steps

You don’t have to fill out every field in the Money tool to get results, so you can use it when you’re just starting out and want a long list of colleges, as well as later when you know the answers to all these questions. . Money’s rankings include several measures of affordability, but are averages for the entire student body. To get a personalized quote, use the Net Price Calculator for any college you’re interested in.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you’ll need to do more research to learn about factors that can’t be easily captured in a search tool. Look for information about the kinds of experiences you’ll have, says Fisher. Do students frequently interact with faculty? How active is a university’s alumni network? Will you have ample hands-on learning opportunities in research, internships, or study abroad programs?

“Ultimately, it’s about finding a place where you can thrive while also considering the cost,” says Fisher.

Find the Create Your Own Ranking tool here.

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