Every time we think about buying something, we run our own little value calculation to decide whether it’s worth it. Those hundred dollar running shoes look awesome, but I don’t exercise much so I’ll get the cheap joggers. That Gore-Tex lined winter coat costs a lot, but living in Minnesota we don’t take warmth for granted. Can you imagine what would happen if we had to make shopping choices without seeing a price tag? The question almost seems absurd.
Unfortunately, that is exactly how the college search works.
You can’t find out your actual price at a particular school until you’ve applied and been accepted, which means (unless you have the time and money to apply to every college in the country) you’ve eliminated hundreds of possibilities without being able to run a value calculation on any of them.
What’s worse, unless you are wealthy enough to pay full price at any school you choose, you don’t really know whether you’ll be able to afford the schools to which you apply. What happens if the price you’re finally asked to pay is more than you are willing to pay or more than you can afford? Most students in this situation end up borrowing whatever it takes to make it work. That’s why student loan debt has skyrocketed to more than $1.5 trillion and why financial issues are the number one reason college students drop out.
So how do you avoid this financial quagmire and get the best college bang for your tuition buck? It all starts with being able to shop by the actual price you will be asked to pay. After all, there’s no point in getting excited about a school you can’t afford. Likewise you don’t want to miss out on a really good possibility because you wrongly assume it’s out of your price range.
To get answers to this question, there are two possibilities. You could choose to trust the online tools that will predict your cost. About ten years ago, every higher education institution added something called a Net Price Calculator to their website. You could spend a couple of months running every school’s net price calculator to build a spreadsheet of the actual prices you might be charged if you applied and were accepted. Except for one thing. It turns out that Net Price Calculators are consistently hard to find, complicated, and just plain wrong.
Or, you could see the actual prices that students just like you are being asked to pay by joining TuitionFit (tuitionfit.org). For over a year now, high school seniors from around the country have been sharing the actual financial aid offers they received through TuitionFit’s secure portal.
How TuitionFit Works
- Anonymizes each award that is shared (protecting each student’s personally identifiable information)
- Decodes the financial data in the letter to calculate the actual price that school asked the student to pay
- Organizes those prices so that each student who shared an award letter could see all of the prices offered to other students with similar need and merit
What’s more, TuitionFit makes the anonymized version of each award letter available so that users have the best possible leverage to negotiate or appeal a college’s final offer.
Best of all, TuitionFit is free for every student who shares at least one award letter. So you have a choice - waltz down the college search path in the dark and hope you end up at a good college that fits your budget. Or, join TuitionFit and use actual pricing data to ensure that you end up looking at schools that fit your budget and finding your ideal financial fit. In the end, that seems like a pretty easy choice.
So join thousands of students and families who are teaming up to make college prices utterly transparent and publicly accessible at tuitionfit.org. Simplify your college search, find your financial fit, and change the way we all shop for college.
Mark Salisbury has spent his whole career in higher education: as an administrator, researcher, and teacher at such schools as University of Iowa, Idaho State University, and Augustana College. After wondering for 25 years why college prices were not transparent, he founded TuitionFit - a "Kelley Blue Book" of actual college prices so that you can see how your offer compares to others and negotiate with real leverage.