Use TuitionFit to Find Your Best Value College
In today’s post, I am interviewing Mark Salisbury, Co-Founder of TuitionFit.org. You can use TuitionFit to find your best value college. It is an amazing tool that let’s you see what other students, with similar financial and academic statistics, are paying for college. This is based on actual award letters that families have uploaded on the site. Then, if you upload your student’s actual award letters on the site (they get anonymized), you will be able to compare them to other students’ awards to validate whether you are getting a good offer and to give you a great negotiating tool.
If you don’t want to pay sticker price for college, make TuitionFit a key piece of your college search process.
Mark, what led you to start TuitionFit?
For most of my career in higher education, I’ve watched the way that colleges organize their prices become less and less transparent. It has always bothered me that colleges and universities – organizations depend on establishing trust between educator and student in order to cultivate real learning, spend the first nine months of their interactions with potential students playing a shell game with price. But when it became clear that this same foolishness was starting to strangle less prestigious colleges and universities, it seemed to me that someone had to do something. I guess that someone turned out to be me.
When searching for colleges, do you believe families put enough focus on the cost of college?
The traditional college search process tells students and families: pick the college you want to go to first, then figure out how to pay for it. That might have worked with prices were a lot lower and when the bulk of financial aid went to students with need. But in the past decade we’ve seen the disastrous consequences that unfold when a student borrows whatever it takes to pay for the college they’ve already picked. In many cases, this student – and often the student’s parents – never get out from under a mountain of educational debt. And if that student is one of the 40% who don’t graduate from college . . . they are an even deeper hole.
I think many of us have forgotten what college is for in the first place. College isn’t so that the student – or the parents – can brag about the school they got in to. And it isn’t about joining a club that is expected to prop you up for the rest of your life (no matter if you’ve earned it or not). College is merely a gateway to the big wide open spaces of adulthood. So when a student gets through that gateway, they need three things to have happened: they learned a lot, they matured a lot, and they accrued no constraints that would get in the way of potentially important opportunities. When students build up a pile of debt during college, that becomes a massively destructive constraint to so many great opportunities like going to work for a startup, taking a Teach for America job, starting your own business, or going to graduate school. And we’ve seen a multitude of news stories about how student debt has prevented young adults from marrying, buying a house, buying a car, or having children.
Moreover, everything we know about the experiences that predict success after college says the same thing: what you do while you are in college is far more important than what college you attend. So what every student and family should be looking for a college opportunity to maximize value – learn and grow as much as possible while paying as little as possible for that opportunity. That doesn’t mean just pick the cheapest college; it means shop for value. Because finding the best value will give the best chance of finding the most success after college.
For a parent with a high school Senior who will be applying to colleges this Fall, how can TuitionFit help find the best value college?
As students are building their final list of colleges to which they will apply, TuitionFit can show students and families a list of colleges and universities that will fit their price range based on the actual prices that those schools offered similar students last year. That means that a family can be confident that every school that accepts their student will also be a school that will fit their price range. Using TuitionFit ensures that a family doesn’t waste time and money – and a student doesn’t end up with a broken heart – because they focused on a school that won’t fit their price range after its offer of admission.
Then, when a high school senior starts receiving acceptance letters and financial aid award offers (which can happen as early as October these days), families can use TuitionFit to compare prices in real time and make sure they are getting the value that is right for them. When a student shares at least one financial aid award letter with TuitionFit, that student and family gets free access to see all of the offers and prices that similar users are sharing from colleges and universities all over the country. In essence, high school seniors and their families around the country crowdsource a “Kelley Blue Book” of college prices in real time, allowing each user to access the information and leverage to make far better informed decisions during the final stages of their college search.
How do you think COVID-19 will change the financial offers students receive for Fall 2021 admission?
I think we will see even more variation in college pricing, and as a result even more lack of transparency from the colleges and universities. They like having the ability to hold back their financial aid offers and actual prices and to sweeten the pot if necessary. Given the extreme financial pressure that colleges and universities will be under to enroll more students given all of the uncertainty at present, colleges and universities will be trying all sorts of gimmicks to get students.
What else do you think is important for families to consider as they look towards Fall 2021 college admission?
I think that the best thing a family and a student can do is to remind themselves daily that they control their destiny. Their fate isn’t determined by the colleges that they get in to or the name of the school where they ultimately enroll. Test scores and grades turn out to be mediocre at best in predicting success in life. So spend some time looking at colleges and applying, but spend a lot more time learning how to succeed while you are in college. Because six months after you start a career or grad school, not very many people are gonna care where you went to undergrad.
Mark and I are very aligned on our thinking that you need to put the financial aspect first in your college search. Using my Upside Down College Search process and signing up for TuitionFit.org go hand-in-hand in ensuring that your family finds your best value college that will set your student up for future success.