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Use a Decision Matrix to Compare Admissions Offers

Use a Decision Matrix to Compare Admissions Offers

Choosing among two or more schools can be challenging. You might find yourself flipping from one to the next because each is the best according to different criteria. This is why a decision matrix is a useful tool for comparing schools. It can clarify your thinking by presenting all of the important criteria on a single page.

Create a decision matrix by listing each one across the top with one column per college and by listing the criteria in the rows. Include at least one row for affordability, such as the net price. The net price is the discounted sticker price after subtracting grants, scholarships and other forms of gift aid.

Also include rows that focus on outcomes, such as graduation rates, average debt at graduation, student loan default rates and average income after graduation. Some of this information is available from the College Scorecard.

If one school has a lower net price than the others but you prefer a different college or university, ask them for more financial aid. Tell them they are your first choice, but you can’t afford them with the current financial aid offer. Tell them about any special circumstances that affect your ability to pay. They might not provide more money, but what do you have to lose?

Even if your first choice is more expensive, consider your income after graduation. If your favorite college or university yields a higher income for graduates, calculate the payback period. How long will it take for the increase in income to cover the difference in debt?

For each criterion, identify one school as the winner. If two are tied for first with the same number of wins and losses, it could be a coin toss decision. Or choose the college with the lower net price or better location.

A decision matrix fits the most important information that will influence your decision on a single sheet of paper. It helps you see all the differences at a glance, so you don't go around in circles. It should help you clarify your decision.

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