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College Decisions Survey Part V: Searching for the Right College

Today, New America’s Education Policy Program released the fifth and final brief in a series analyzing new survey data about what prospective college students know about the college-going and financing process. Part V: Searching for the Right College focuses on prospective and recently-enrolled college students’ experiences finding and using information to make their college decisions.

Students have to locate and weigh an enormous amount of information to select an institution and program that fits their needs. It is not surprising that 63 percent of recently-enrolled and prospective students say they have often felt lost when researching college or financial aid options.

College websites (63 percent) and online search engines (59 percent) were the most popular sources of information that prospective and recently-enrolled students used to learn about colleges, but some students faced difficulty locating important information (See Figure 1, below). Forty-three percent of students using college websites had trouble finding how much a college costs, and 42 percent had trouble finding information about financial aid and scholarships.

Lack of information or misinformation can hinder a student’s enrollment and graduation. The federal government and institutions both play an important role in improving the availability, quality, and simplicity of information about higher education. In addition to the Obama administration’s recent announcement of using prior-prior year taxes to help simplify the financial aid process, the federal government should:

  • Provide better student progression, college completion, and post-graduation outcome data as seen on the new U.S. Department of Education Scorecard
  • Simplify grant, loan, tax credit, and loan repayment options
  • Mandate minimum accountability standards to ensure students don’t enroll in institutions where they are likely to end up with debt and no degree
Institutions helping students find and use information should:
  • Make campus visits more accessible and affordable
  • Improve and refine their Search Engine Optimization, so students searching for information can find it easily without stumbling into lead generators
  • Increase transparency and trust by providing accurate information about cost of attendance

Read more about the recommendations here.

The release of this last brief coincides with two back-to-school events about how policymakers, researchers, and practitioners can use this data to help students make better decisions. The first event is today, September 17th starting at 9:30am. Tune in here. The second event will be in New York City's Civic Hall on Monday, September 21st at 6:30. Register here.