For many students, trying to figure out where they want to apply to college is a daunting task. After all, there is a lot of information to consider beyond whether their major is available.
If your student is like most, they need to take a hard look at everything the school has to offer, what it will cost to attend, and their odds of being accepted. This is especially true if your student has a limited amount of money to spend on application fees, making it a priority that they make smart choices from the beginning.
Luckily, it is possible to build a solution that can serve as a college comparison spreadsheet template this year and for years to come, should they need to revisit their options or simply want to pass it down to a younger sibling.
Here’s everything your student needs to do to create an enviable college search organizer.
- 1 How to Build the Ultimate College Comparison Spreadsheet
- 2 What Data Matters for a College Planning Worksheet?
- 3 What are Good Sources for Data for a College Research Worksheet?
- 4 What Program Should I Use for a College Planning Spreadsheet?
- 5 Where Do I Store a College Search Spreadsheet?
- 6 How Many Schools Should I Add to a College Comparison Worksheet?
- 7 How Do I Turn This into a College Decision Spreadsheet?
- 8 Taking It to the Next Level: The Scholarship System’s College Cost Comparison Calculator
- 9 Do You Want a Ready-Made College Comparison Solution?
How to Build the Ultimate College Comparison Spreadsheet
If your student needs a robust college planning spreadsheet, they need to track the right information. Everything from the size and location of the school to admission requirements to costs is worth listing if they want to make a comparison.
By focusing on being organized from the beginning, your student will have an easier time collecting the data. Then, when it comes time to make a college decision, they will have all of the critical information available in one place.
What Columns Should I Include on a College Spreadsheet?
When it comes to creating a great college search spreadsheet, it’s all about choosing the right columns. These are headers that identify the kind of data will be in the cells, making sure every note is in its proper place.
Basic Info Section
Any college worksheet worth its salt is going to begin with the following columns:
- School Name
- Type (Public or Private)
- Geographic Region
- Student Body Size
- Full-Time Undergrad Students
This reflects basic data about the school itself, making it critical for any college comparison.
Next, your student should include details regarding certain admissions requirements and data to help them determine whether they can land merit-based scholarships from a particular school. Here are a few to add:
- SAT/ACT Requirements
- Top 25% on Test Scores
- Average High School GPA for Incoming Freshman
- Percentage of Freshman without Need Receiving Merit Aid
- Average Merit Award for Freshman without Financial Need
The SAT/ACT requirement and high school GPA information allow your student to consider their odds of acceptance along with how stringent the school is overall.
The other details make comparing their chances of getting merit-based aid easier, including if there is no financial need. For example, if your student is in the top 25th percentile, they are much more likely to receive merit aid money.
Financial Information Section
Then, your student should add columns for certain financial aspects of selecting a specific school, including:
- Total Cost (Tuition, Room and Board, Supplies, etc.)
- Average Percent of Need Met
- Average Undergraduate Financial Aid Package
- Average Undergraduate Need-Based Award
These columns help your student compare the financial aspects of selecting a school without factoring in merit-based financial aid.
Since your student may not know in advance if they’ll receive merit-based awards, being able to use a college comparison spreadsheet to examine the percentage of need met and averages about financial aid packages and need-based awards can help them decide where to apply.
Personal Criteria Section
Finally, your student should add a few extra columns based on what’s important to them. One can be a “personal school rating score,” a reflection of their gut feeling about whether they would like to attend college there.
However, they should feel free to define a few personal measures as well, such as whether certain amenities are available, to examine points they value. If they score multiple criteria, they can also add an extra column that calculates an average, to make comparison simpler.
Here’s a quick look at how your student could set up the columns:
What Data Matters for a College Planning Worksheet?
Since the spreadsheet needs to allow for easy comparison and also serve as a college financial planning worksheet, collecting all of the data based on the column recommendations above is crucial.
Details about what the school itself offers, the size of the student body, and location gives your student the ability to consider their quality of life and the educational experience while attending the school.
Data about the total costs, financial aid packages, and chances for merit-based awards allow the document to work as a college cost comparison spreadsheet, which helps your student to determine affordability.
Without one aspect or the other, making a college decision can be more challenging. Ultimately, having a solid overview is a must for every student, and those columns can help them do that.
- 5 Common Mistakes That Increase the Cost of College
- How to Begin Searching for Colleges
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What are Good Sources for Data for a College Research Worksheet?
In the end, a college comparison spreadsheet is only valuable if the data is accurate. Selecting reputable and reliable sources is a must. Otherwise, flawed information could lead your student to make a decision based on an inaccuracy.
Usually, the first place your student should look for reliable data is on each school’s website. They should begin with the admissions section, as this will include details about the requirements for getting into the school.
In most cases, schools provide financial details in sections dedicated to costs and financial aid, usually in a subsection of the admissions portion of the website. There are rules about how a college can advertise their prices, so accuracy is typically a priority.
Information about the school’s size and student body might be in the admissions, student life, about us, or “why choose [school]” sections. However, reputable data covering these details is also available elsewhere. Similarly, city and state details are readily available, even with a quick Google search.
Another great source of information is the Big Future section of the College Board website. The site provides details on nearly any school, including data on the student body, costs, average financial aid packages, application deadlines, unique features, accreditation, and more.
If your student can’t find details on a school’s website, Big Future is the place to go. Since the College Board has no stake in what your student chooses, they aren’t going to entice your student with skewed data. Plus, it’s completely free to use, and you don’t need an account to look at school information.
No matter which sources your student chooses, they always need to scan the websites for any fine print. If there are caveats associated with the data, they should be listed on the webpage. Your student may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to see if there are any notes or look for small numbers next to a claim that relates to a footnote.
What Program Should I Use for a College Planning Spreadsheet?
Short answer: spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or OneDrive spreadsheets
If your student hasn’t built a lot of spreadsheets, they may be wondering whether they should create a college spreadsheet in Microsoft Word or Google Sheets. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be a hard decision, as both can do the job.
Each has similar features and formatting, so your student isn’t necessarily getting a more or less powerful program in either case. As long as your student stores an Excel spreadsheet in OneDrive and has an account, it will open using the Office Online program. Sheets in a Google Drive essentially do the same thing.
Plus, you can convert data in Microsoft Excel into a Google Sheet and vice versa. This means if your student chooses one and (for whatever reason) needs to switch, that’s pretty easy to manage. A quick copy and paste can move simple data from one document to the other.
However, repeatedly copying data back and forth isn’t ideal. If your student doesn’t consistently have access to Microsoft Excel, then Google Sheets might be a better option because the core product is free.
This is especially true as many schools accept Google documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows for assignments, decreasing the need to pay for Microsoft Office at all.
Where Do I Store a College Search Spreadsheet?
Short answer: Somewhere that syncs online so you don’t lose all your hard work and key information!
Once your student has a spreadsheet built, they need a safe place to store it. While saving it to their computer is always an option, it isn’t necessarily the best approach.
First, should their computer completely crash (such as from a dreaded hard drive failure), their spreadsheet is gone. While that may not hurt if they just created it, after they spend a few hours adding data, it could be a massive loss.
Second, keeping it locally on a laptop means that, unless they have their computer with them, they can’t access the information. If your student might need to look at or add to their college search spreadsheet on the go, that isn’t ideal.
Today, nearly everyone has at least some cloud storage. Google account holders get some automatically, as well as Amazon Prime account holders. Microsoft Windows users can use the One Drive feature too. However, your student could also open up a free Dropbox account if they only need a little storage.
Cloud storage gives users a ton of benefits over using their computer to store critical files, including:
- Freeing up hard drive space
- Automatic backups and redundancy
- Access from any internet-connected device
Many cloud storage systems can be accessed from nearly any device, anywhere. Most come with mobile apps, meaning your student can get to (and potentially edit) their college comparison worksheet from their smartphone.
Ultimately, when it comes to accessibility, it’s hard to beat cloud storage. Plus, if the provider has a desktop feature, your student can easily search their cloud files on their computer. What’s easier than that?
I’ve used Dropbox for almost a decade. While I pay for 1 TB now, giving me the ability to back up EVERYTHING I do, the smaller accounts (even the free one) can be great for students working to organize their college search.
Don’t have a Dropbox account? Click here to get started.
How Many Schools Should I Add to a College Comparison Worksheet?
The number of colleges your student should add to their college search spreadsheet depends on how many schools they are considering. Essentially, if a particular one is on the table at all, it’s wise to collect this basic data to see if it might be a good fit.
However, overloading the worksheet with information from every school imaginable isn’t always smart. To say it is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential options is an understatement, so your student should only list colleges they are genuinely considering.
Similarly, if they eliminate a school from contention entirely, it isn’t out of line to remove it during the process. For example, if they already have nine colleges listed and, while adding details about a tenth they figure out one of the schools on the worksheet is solidly beaten out by the others or just isn’t a realistic option, they can remove it.
However, they should do so with caution, particularly if they don’t have all of the facts. For instance, deleting a school because of the cost may seem like a good idea. But, if they are applying for external scholarships that could make it affordable and haven’t found out if they are getting the award, then why not keep it on the list, at least for now?
Most spreadsheets can store TONS of data, so having a lot of schools on the list isn’t hurting anything from that perspective. Plus, even massive worksheets don’t take up a lot of space on your cloud drive, so there shouldn’t be a storage issue there either.
Ultimately, your student should add data for any school they are considering. That way, when its time to turn their college comparison worksheet into a college decision spreadsheet, they are all set.
How Do I Turn This into a College Decision Spreadsheet?
One of the best things about the document your student creates is how easily it can become a college selection spreadsheet. Whether your student uses Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, the result is a highly sortable and filterable spreadsheet.
For example, your student can organize the information based on the total cost of attending, the percentage of need met, the average financial aid package, or any other column, or hide colleges from view that don’t hit a certain standard.
In Google Sheets, your student simply goes to the Data tab (sixth menu option from the left) on their college selection worksheet to sort by a chosen column or filter based on specific criteria. For Microsoft Excel users, they just need to click on the Sort & Filter option in the Editing section (far righthand side) of the Home tab.
With sorting and filtering, your student can compare what each school has to offer with ease. However, this isn’t necessarily the only comparison they should perform.
Taking It to the Next Level: The Scholarship System’s College Cost Comparison Calculator
While the college comparison spreadsheet does capture basic financial information for each school, using a college cost comparison calculator is a smart move.
These calculators allow your student to get a better picture of what a school will cost out-of-pocket as they take into consideration other sources of funding.
For example, if your student will be working to help pay for their education, that impacts the amount of financial aid they need. Similarly, scholarships that work at any college should be factored in, as well as any federal grants or student loans they will get based on their FAFSA.
What Information Do You Need for a College Cost Comparison Calculator?
While each college cost comparison calculator is different, choosing a comprehensive one allows your student to more accurately examine what selecting a particular school means from a financial perspective.
Along with potential sources of funding, including everything from wages to gifts to scholarships to grants, having a thorough breakdown of a school’s costs is a smart move. This includes details about:
Additionally, they should examine other expenses that don’t fall into those categories but will be on their shoulders, such as:
- Car Insurance
- Gas and/or Public Transportation
- Car Maintenance/Repairs
- Cell Phone Plan
- Personal Care
- Other Food
- Renters Insurance
- Medical Expenses
All of those costs potentially vary by location. For example, insurance always factors in where your student lives, and food prices also differ, including based on the actual stores where your student intends to shop. Sales tax also varies by state and even city.
Your student can add all of these costs to their larger college comparison worksheet, though it will certainly take additional time. Often, your student should use the base information to narrow down their list first, then add these details in to get a better picture regarding their top choices.
In some cases, your student is going to need to obtain quotes for car and renter’s insurance. Luckily, getting free quotes is pretty easy, and there is never any obligation.
Similarly, reviewing local grocery or department store fliers or online ordering options may make these costs easier to estimate.
While it can be a significant amount of work, it’s wise for your student to take on the task to make sure they are fully prepared.
Do You Want a Ready-Made College Comparison Solution?
If you are ready to up your organization game, the Scholarship System’s Ultimate College Cost Calculator and Comparison Workbook have your back.
It’s an easy-to-use, plug-and-play tool for calculating, tracking, and comparing college costs, allowing your student to make the best decision possible while helping them avoid student loan debt.
Not only does it include a helpful calculator, but also a college application checklist spreadsheet and a college comparison template. There’s also a handy college scholarship spreadsheet to make sure that part of the process stays organized too.
Essentially, your student can organize the entire process without having to design a college search spreadsheet on their own.
Grab a free copy of our College Cost Calculator here: https://thescholarshipsystem.com/calculator