Free Information That’s COOL

August 0, 2004

by Howard and Matthew Greene

While it is still summer and the weather is hot, it's a good time to think COOL if you are beginning the search for the right college, university, specialized college, career or technical college or trade school. COOL stands for College Opportunities On-Line, the U.S. Department of Education's free Web Site. The Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was authorized by Congress in 1998 to assist college and career bound students and their parents to identify those institutions that could meet their needs. NCES collects data online from nearly 7,000 two and four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. that creates a treasure trove for students and parents as they sort out the most appropriate college programs in terms such critical factors as academic majors and the number of students majoring in each field, degrees awarded, geographic location, enrollment, admissions selectivity, tuition and rooming costs, financial aid, graduation rate, minority composition, and crime rate on campus. You can do an extraordinarily quick and efficient search by inputting the specific criteria that matter the most in selecting a college or university. Once you have discovered particular institutions that match your requirements, you can link directly to their individual web sites to gather more detailed information and request application and other specific materials of interest. The formatting of COOL's data base enables the searcher to compare a number of colleges on the same points of concern. Let's say a student has several priority criteria in selecting a college program such as a specific academic field of study, undergraduate enrollment, location, admission selectivity, and tuition costs. COOL will screen for these factors quickly from the thousands of institutional options to a workable number of individual programs that can be studied in depth and compared against one another. You can further refine your criteria and eliminate and/or add other programs that best fit your needs. Some of the most significant but elusive information NCES collects that we find invaluable, and should concern prospective students, are the graduation rates of students over four and six years, with specific rates by gender and racial/ethnic categories; the annual campus crime statistics broken out by categories; the percentage of students who receive financial aid from government and the institutions funds, and the average amount of grant aid and loans; the number of applicants and percentage of acceptances by male and female categories, and the range of admission test scores of admitted applicants. You can readily link to the Education Department's financial aid web site which provides comprehensive information on federal aid sources. You can also download the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) which must be completed to be considered for all federally funded financial aid. Finally, the COOL site includes a very useful listing of other web sites that provide information on post high school education and financial aid. Every so often a service comes along that is free, useful, and has no strings attached. COOL provides an excellent resource for those starting their search for their educational future. And it's free. We encourage you to check it out.