What is College Abacus?
College Abacus is a website that offers an easy – and free – way for students to get individualized financial aid package estimates, direct from schools. With net-price calculators from more than 2500 schools combined into one, easy-to-use system, College Abacus calculates how much financial aid students and families can expect based on individual circumstances before students actually apply to colleges.
For consultancies and institutions of higher education, College Abacus offers access to a unique data set on college financial aid packages not available publicly or through the Department of Education, and provides tailored analysis on tuition-pricing and financial aid.
How does College Abacus help college-bound students and their families?
College-bound students and their families often get discouraged by the high sticker price of college, even though many students often receive a “discount” in the form of a financial aid package. At College Abacus, we focus on helping students and families identify schools that they can afford based on their individualized financial aid estimate, rather than sticker price.
The City Series on the College Abacus blog demonstrates how our site adds clarity to conversations about college cost. In our first entry, we ran the numbers for a family of median household income ($36, 010) and median size (two people) in Pittsburgh to determine which of three Pittsburgh schools would offer them the best financial aid package – and therefore, the lowest cost of attendance. For our comparison, we used Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. Surprisingly, though University of Pittsburgh had the lowest sticker price, it ultimately would have been the most expensive school for a student with this profile. (You can access the full results at CollegeAbacus.com/blog.) This kind of information can help students to discover affordable schools that they thought were out of reach and make informed decisions about where to apply to college.
How many schools are included in College Abacus?
College Abacus now includes 2500+ schools, and more schools are added each month. In addition to four-year universities, community colleges, and technical schools, our database includes schools of art and design, seminaries, massage schools and cosmetology programs. College Abacus also enables users to generate estimates for tribal colleges, religious institutions, and more than 50 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
How do you generate your individualized estimates for students?
College Abacus uses the net-price calculators posted on school websites to generate financial aid estimates for our users. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 required US colleges and universities to build “net-price calculators.” These calculators estimate the financial aid package students would receive, enabling students to identify schools they can actually afford – before deciding where to apply. The estimates on CollegeAbacus.com mirror exactly the estimates on the websites of individual schools. College Abacus provides a space where users can both generate official financial aid estimates, and compare them across schools.
What can College Abacus do for colleges and universities?
College Abacus offers two key services to consultancies and institutions to support its operations, allowing the site to serve students and their families at no charge.
College Abacus offers aggregate analysis of the tuition pricing and financial aid practices of the colleges listed. This allows schools to see themselves through the eyes of students making net price decisions. Schools can understand how they compare and identify elements that drive differences in cost, so that schools can better attract prospective students. For many community and technical schools, this service provides a unique opportunity to delve into how competitors present their pricing to potential students.
We also connect schools to students that express an interest in them on our system through lead generation. College Abacus only connects students with schools in which they have expressed a specific interest, thereby yielding high quality leads with a strong conversion potential for participating schools. (Leads include contact information and relevant non-financial data.) Institutions with interest in either of these services should contact our Chief Product Officer, Abigail Seldin (Abigail@CollegeAbacus.com)
How can schools get listed on College Abacus, if they are not included now?
We are already getting requests from colleges that want to be included in College Abacus. We welcome outreach from these schools. We don’t charge schools that want to join College Abacus, but we can sometimes accelerate their inclusion when we work together to coordinate some of the technical details.
What kinds of features can we expect from College Abacus, other than more schools and more net price calculators?
College Abacus already offers a suite of exciting functions beyond comparing the cost of different schools. The site’s “Lifeline” feature allows students to send financial questions to their parents. Parents can mark their answers “confidential,” hiding the answers from children while still allowing them to search for schools that would offer them attractive financial aid packages.
Our users can email and save their favorite results, using accounts created with College Abacus, Google, or Facebook. Account creation allows users to search schools without re-entering their information each time they visit the site.
How is College Abacus different from other online services that help college-bound students pick schools or find loans?
College Abacus helps college-bound students identify schools that they can afford without loans, and to make financially-informed decisions about where to apply to school. Most other financial help tools focus on connecting consumers with loans, rather than financial aid,
Students and schools shouldn’t need a crystal ball to make decisions about financial aid – just an abacus.
Whitney Haring-Smith is the founder and CEO of College Abacus. Whitney earned his BA and MA at Yale University in 2007, before continuing his education at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Whitney graduated from Oxford with a doctorate in politics. Abigail Seldin is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of College Abacus. Abigail graduated with a BA and MS from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. She is now pursuing a doctorate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. You can reach Abigail at Abigail@CollegeAbacus.com.