MIKE MEETS… THE COLLEGE SHOPPING SHEET

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College Shopping Sheet

I wish all my shopping lists had sweet graphics like this.

If you’ve been paying attention to student loan news (or just keeping an eye on Daily Interest), you’ve probably heard about the new College Shopping Sheet that the Obama administration introduced for the 2013 academic year.

In a nutshell, the sheet makes college “shopping” easier by providing a realistic estimate of what each college will cost. I think this is a great idea since I can’t even keep the different types of student loans straight. But I won’t know for sure if this will actually be helpful for students until I investigate the sheet itself.

Let’s dig in.

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COSTS IN THE 2013-14 YEAR

I love that this list is at the very top. It’s the meat of what students and parents are going to want to see, and the itemization provides some excellent additional details.

I’m a bit worried about the sheet estimating some of the more variable details, though. As an English major with plenty of friends majoring in sciences, I know firsthand that my textbook costs and theirs are very different.

The cost of transportation really only applies to commuters, and that amount varies depending on how far the individual’s commute is. “Other Educational Costs” just seems too vague to show me where my money is going.

NET COSTS

I thought about this one for a while, originally wanting it to be the very first thing on the sheet. Now I think it’s perfect where it is.

It comes directly after the section dedicated to grants and scholarships, aka the “free money.” Since you’ll never have to pay the free money back, it makes sense that it should just be subtracted right from the total cost.

In the current format, a quick glance will be able to tell a student how much they saved—and what that “real” cost will be directly afterwards.

OPTIONS TO PAY NET COSTS

This section could benefit from a bit of reformatting. Family contribution is the number any student considers before they even begin to look into loans. That number should be on top, and the loans should follow because they’ll ultimately cover what’s leftover from that contribution.

The loan section also left out a very important factor: interest. An unsubsidized Stafford loan may cost $25,000 when you take it out, but that’s not what I’d call the loan’s “real” cost.

To show the true cost of college, this sheet should bring loan interest rates into the equation. A subsection beneath each loan that explains what the cost will look like in 5 or 10 years would be incredibly helpful to that end. The monthly cost is mentioned in the sidebar, but the total is just left up to the student’s math skills to decipher.

SIDEBAR

All three factors are useful numbers to know, but not more important than the main stuff down the center. Putting them on the side with the contact information was a great decision.

THE VERDICT

Slight reformatting aside, I completely give my student stamp of approval to the College Shopping Sheet.

Thinking back to my own financial aid letters, I vaguely remember that none of them were very easy to read. I also know for a fact that none of them looked at what I’d actually be paying when all the incidental costs came into play.

I think this new sheet make the financial aid process a lot more transparent, and will be really useful for freshmen and others who are new players in the game of loans (read that in a Littlefinger-like voice for full effect).

What do you think of the new Shopping Sheet? Let me know in the comments.

(Photo: ED.gov)

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