Using the College Board to Research Schools

In my last post, I promised to share some resources that can help you evaluate the generosity of colleges and universities. If you missed it, here is that post:

Financial Aid Nuts and Bolts

Today I’m going to focus on the College Board’s website, which is a quick and easy resource for anyone interested in getting financial aid statistics on any college or university.

To get started, type the name of any school into the College Search box on the College Board’s home page. You will have access to a variety of statistics on the institution. Click on Cost & Financial Aid to find financial aid stats.

To illustrate what the College Board can provide, I closed my eyes and opened a page in US News & World Report Ultimate College Guide and selected DePauw University, a highly respected liberal arts college in Greencastle, IN,

Here’s what I found out about DePauw when I clicked on the school’s Cost & Financial Aid.

Annual College Costs

  • Tuition and fees:   $34,865
  • Room and board:  $9,180
  • Books and supplies: $750
  • Estimated personal expenses: $1,000
  • Transportation expense: $300

Financial Aid Statistics

  • Full-time freshmen enrollment: 717
  • Number who applied for need-based aid: 518
  • Number who were offered aid: 408
  • Number who had full need met: 133
  • Average percent of need met:  90%
  • Average financial aid package: $29,279
  • Average need-based loan: $2,905
  • Average need-based scholarship or grant award: $25,918
  • Average non-need based aid: $17,134
  • Average indebtedness at graduation : Not reported

Financial aid distribution

Percent of total undergraduate aid awarded as:

  • Scholarships/grants: Not reported
  • Loans/jobs: Not reported

Non-need based aid determined by:

  • Music/drama
  • Minority status
  • Alumni affiliation
  • Academics
  • ROTC
  • Leadership

What the Statistics Mean

Looking at DePauw University’s stats, I can conclude that this is a generous school. On average it meets 90% of a student’s financial aid need. There are probably only four dozen or so schools in the entire country that can meet 100% of their students’ financial need. In DePauw’s case, the school met the full financial need of 133 of the 408 freshmen who received financial aid.

It’s important to look at how much of the average financial aid  package — $29,279 — is in grants rather than loans. Obviously you want packages that contain grants, which don’t have to be paid back. The average need-based grant of $25,918 represents a high percentage of the typical aid package, which is good.

Wealthy families, who aren’t going to qualify for need-based aid, must look at the “average non-need based aid” line, which is higher-ed jargon for merit aid. The average merit aid is $17,134, which is high.

The school didn’t share the average indebtedness at graduation, which is irritating. It also didn’t report the breakdown of loans/jobs and scholarships/grants, which is also aggravating.

Finally, the school shares what sort of things it values when awarding merit scholarships.

The best way to get comfortable with working with these sorts of statistics is to try to do research with colleges that you are interested in. So get started.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of a workBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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