Choosing college: What we don’t know

That’s why we have decided to embark on this work: It’s clear that the availability of information to students about where to go to college and how to finance it is unevenly distributed among students from different backgrounds. The traditionally aged students—like the ones in Sallie Mae’s survey—are often sought after by schools and inundated with information, nearly all of it distorted through the lenses of marketing and commercial rankings. Less advantaged students, who are largely missing from the national conversation about higher education decision-making, have little guidance or information available and are usually constrained by their location.

In recent years, several organizations have worked to fill the information void, but they tend to focus on traditional students. Consumer tools like the College Board’s Big Future and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard seek to provide students with information like what majors a college offers, what the average out-of-pocket costs are for similar students, and the average or median student loan debt for a borrower. But this information is provided without understanding whether prospective students understand this data and/or find it useful for their college search process.

The truth is that data on how students come to know what they know, why they believe what they do, and ultimately how they incorporate information into college choice is simply unavailable. This survey will help us better understand how all students make their decisions and in turn, will help policymakers and college-access advocates tailor their resources to have greater impact.

We look forward to fielding the survey this October and will begin to analyze the results this winter. We will begin to publish the results this spring and summer, shedding new light on how students decide how to plan and pay for college. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact me at

Rachel Fishman is a policy analyst for the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. This article originally appeared in Ed Central.

"(Required)" indicates required fields