What is the College Score Card?

What is the College Score Card?

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What is the College Score Card? 

The college score card is an online tool set up by the US Department of Education. It is also a vast database where you peek behind the scenes and find out about colleges. What programs they offer, student body, costs, admissions, results, and more. 

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Data on College Score Card

A strength of the college score card is that it makes higher education data visible. As this leads to more transparency, if you use it wisely, the tool may be an asset. As a rule, the tool tends to provide a broad sense of how costs compare. But experts note it may not help you predict what a college will cost you as an individual. 

The main reason is that the costs described are net costs. Not the actual price marked on the website. Net price is the school’s average annual cost. Things like tuition, living costs, books and fees. Minus the average grants and scholarships for federal financial aid recipients.  

A weakness of the tool is the limit to the data. In many cases, the metrics represent school reported information. And this may not be complete or accurate, according to disclaimers by the USDE.

Take away? The college score card may be an useful jumping off point. You might use it to narrow down your list for further research. One resource to use is the College Navigator. It is a tool from the National Center for Education Statistics and may cover some of your other questions about a college.

How to Navigate the College Score Card Data 

As its name suggests, the college score card looks like a card and has icons and numbers on it. It also has a search bar and links to resources. Apart from the search bar, the homepage has a bottom section with resources. You can find out about careers and apprenticeships. Or, click to learn more about federal financial aid. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

Here is a walk through on how you might use the college score card data in your college search.  

1. Find the college you want to learn about 

To use the college score card, the first thing you want to do is search for a college you want to attend. This info is on the homepage and allows you to locate a school one of three ways.

  • Custom search. Search by location, field of study and the kind of degree you want. Certificate, associate or bachelor.
  • Name search. Plug in the name of the school you want information about.
  • Show me options. The more personalized route. It allows you to check boxes about location, how many people get in, most people graduate, and type of degree.

If the college has a few campuses, you can refine your search and look at one location vs another too. 

2. How to read each card 

There are four sections to each card. A header, a set of icons, metrics and a prompt that says, “view more details”. The top header of the card shows the college location. Underneath that is the university name and right below it, the number of undergrads. Icons, of which there are four, speak to the type of college it is. Things like two or four year, private or public college, city or rural area and size of the college.

Below the icons, you will see three sets of metrics. You can open each section to learn more.

  • Graduation rate. This is the share of students who graduated within 8 years of entering this school for the first time.
  • Salary after completing. This data shows the median annual earning of former students one year after graduation. But the data is only from those who received federal financial aid.
  • Average annual cost. The average annual net price that a student who gets federal financial aid pays to cover expenses (tuition and living expenses). For public schools, this is the average cost for in state students.  

At the end of the card, if you select “view more details”, the card opens up to a new screen. 

3. Make sense of the big screen 

When you open the card up, the screen is bigger and has more features. You can add a school with the button, ‘+ compare’. Or share the school, if you want someone else to look at it. There’s also a handy prompt that says, “start my FAFSA form”. And you can look into military benefits to help you pay for school too. You’ll also see your chosen school on a map. The map does not allow you to plan a commute. But it does give you an idea of where the college lives and if there are landmarks nearby. 

Some of the other pull downs from the menu delve deeper into data.

  • Costs. Here you calculate your personal net price and figure out what students in your income bracket may pay.
  • Graduation and retention. This part shows you the number of students who return after their first year. So, higher numbers may indicate a robust culture of motivated students.
  • Financial aid and debt. In this tab, you can see the typical monthly loan payment and info about student debt after graduation.
  • Salary after completing by field of study. A bar that shows typical earnings in the first year of graduation for programs where there is data.
  • Fields of study. Fields of study represent programs but may not map in a direct way to actual course catalogs.
  • Student body. This gives you an idea of the racial and ethnic mix of a college. Also, it shows you how many eligible low income students received federal Pell Grants
  • Test scores and acceptance. A chart of the ACT / SAT score ranges that admitted and enrolled students reported.

4. View more details  

If you want to dig deeper, you might click the blue “i” button or the button that says, “view more details”. Of the two, “I”, which stands for ‘information’, leads to a whole new menu. Here is a brief breakdown of what to expect on this page.

Data documentation. College scorecard provides data at two levels. The institution level and the field of study level. If you want more technical details, this section offers it.

Change log. As a rule, the USDE updates the college score card a few times per year. So, on this page, you can check if their data is recent. At last check, their last date stamp was March 30, 2020.

Glossary. The glossary explains each of the terms used on the college score card. It can be useful to help you understand where the data came from and how it was compiled.

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Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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