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once you know the school's full cost of attendance at each institution to which you're applying that might include tuition room and board student fees transportation books how then do you compare costs of each institution side by side you would think that you would just look at the sticker price and that would make it easy to compare but unfortunately it's not as easy as that one of the things that you really need to look at first is how long does it take to graduate from each institution on your list unfortunately as college costs have risen precipitously over the last two or three decades schools have done an increasingly poor job at getting students out of school within that four-year traditional time period that it would take to graduate in fact nationally this statistic is that in public universities and colleges sixty-eight percent of students fail to graduate within four years and forty-four percent of students fail to graduate within six years okay so looking at that you have to say to yourself is there an additional cost associated with not finishing college within four years and of course that cost can be very large there's two components to that cost cost number one is you or your parents are going to have to pay an extra year cost of attendance so extra tuition room and board etc but there's an additional cost and this is the cost that students and families don't think about when they're deciding about which school they're going to ten and that cost is the opportunity cost of not being in the workforce while you're in school an additional year so if we assume that an average starting salary for a college graduate these days is about fifty thousand dollars not only are you losing potentially 25 up to 65 thousand dollars of additional associated tuition room and board and fees but you are also losing a year in the workforce where you could be earning about fifty thousand dollars so altogether the cost of an additional year in school can be up to a hundred thousand dollars or more so the next thing you need to really look at when analyzing college costs is what is the average percentage of demonstrated financial need that each school on your list meet so you would think that schools would meet any cost above your expected Family Contribution and unfortunately that's not the case in fact there are only about 60 to 65 schools in the country that meet your entire demonstrated financial need so that means that at most schools you will end up paying not only your expected Family Contribution but you will end up paying your unmet need as well so how do you find the average percentage of need met statistic for each school fortunately there's a wonderful little website called College datacom it's a free website and on that website you can search for each school on your list and then go to the money matters tab for each school and you will find there the average percentage of need Mat for each institution ok so the next thing you need to look at which can also be found on college datacom is the form this need-based assistance is going to come in for each school on your list right so is it going to come in the form of grants and scholarships which is essentially free money that you don't have to pay back or is it going to come in the form of what we call self help aid which is loans it could be student loans it could be parent loans that you have to pay back at interest right so let's look at university of colorado at boulder which is a large public institution and as i scroll down here I can look I want to look at the profile of 2014-15 financial aid and you'll see down under a freshman you'll see the average percent of Mead met there which was the first question we asked as about eighty-one percent and then beneath that we have the average award and the average award at Boulder is almost sixteen thousand dollars per year and then under that we can look at what form that award money comes in and you can see the first category is the need based gift that is grants and scholarships free money and you can see that about seventy seven point eight percent of Boulder freshmen received a need-based gift in the average of an amount of about eleven thousand dollars then you can also look at what the average need-based self-help amount is for entering freshman at Boulder that self-help aid was received by eighty eight point five percent of aid recipients for an average amount of about five thousand eight hundred and thirteen dollars beneath that you can see what merit-based aid is given to the average freshman and only about four point two percent of the entering freshmen at Boulder are receiving any kind of merit-based gift and the average amount they're listed is 9670 six dollars so one of the things you really want to do when you look at this college data website is to compare the data for freshmen with the data for all undergraduates because what you'll find occasionally is a school that I call a bait-and-switch school where they're going to give more money away to freshmen than they do to the rest of their undergraduates in order to attract the freshman to the school and then once you're there they give you less aid so what you really want to use college data for is to figure out the percentage of aid that's coming in the form of free money versus the percentage that is going to come in the form of mostly loans from each of the schools on your list in addition to need baise gifts or need-based self-help amounts you may be eligible for what is called merit aid or on college data it's called non need-based aid and this is money usually in the form of grants or scholarships that is given away to students that a specific college or university wants to attract based on their academic or extracurricular merit if you are ineligible for need-based aid merit aid or non need-based aid is the only form of assistance you may receive if you're eligible for need-based aid you could receive a combination of need-based aid and non need-based aid now most schools will give some merit away to students some merit money away to students that they want to attract however there are about 25 schools in the country including all the Ivy League's Stanford Swarthmore Williams Amherst etc who don't give any merit aid away at all to any of their freshmen students so in these cases if you do not qualify for need-based aid you will be paying the full price tag at those schools whereas at other schools you might be receiving some merit based assistance to get you to come there which you can kind of think of as a tuition discount okay to sum up there are four things you need to look at when comparing the costs of college education institution by institution firstly what is the average time that it takes to graduate from each school on your list secondly what is the average percentage of need that each school on your list meets thirdly what is the form that that assistance is going to come in is it going to come in the form of loans that you have to pay back or is it going to come in the form of free money and fourthly what kinds of merit aid or non need-based aid is each instance she's going to give you