The Basics: Getting the Right College Info

June 10, 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently launched College Reality Check, a resource that gets at the nuts and bolts of the cost of college and other essential comparative data.  The website is designed to present the facts that are helpful as students decide between colleges. These include school by school data on average student loan indebtedness , graduation rates, starting salaries of graduates and “net price,” the true cost a student pays each year in loans, work study and savings after any grants and scholarships are taken into account.

The Chronicle is not the only resource of this type. The U.S. Department of Education, for example, runs a “College Affordability and Transparency Center.” Most colleges host “net cost calculators” as well, though there is much criticism that these are often hard to find on college websites and confusing in their output at best.

Having access to accurate information about the costs, graduation rates, average student loan indebtedness, and starting salaries of graduates is essential in making a wise decision when comparing colleges. 

This information is particularly important for first generation college students, many of whom have little margin for error in their college decision.

While increased access to such information is good, it can also be absolutely overwhelming. One of the strengths of The Chronicle’s College Reality Check is that it breaks things down into 3 important questions: 

  • How much will I actually pay for my degree?
  • Will I graduate on time?
  • Will I make enough to repay my debt?

The world of the first generation college student is one of constant firsts and completely foreign experiences. Bringing clarity about what is essential in evaluating colleges goes a long way in helping students, their families, and their mentors and counselors navigate this new world.


Jennifer Wheary is a senior fellow at Demos, a national policy organization. She is a first generation college graduate with a B.S. from Cornell University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



This blog is part of the First to Finish College blog project, produced jointly by Demos and SparkAction.

Jennifer Wheary