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Using Data to find the three A’s in your Student’s Application Process

The framework of my counseling method in both philosophy and practice was scandalously simple:

Every college on a student’s list must pass three tests. Think of these as the “three A’s:”

  1. Will the school likely be AFFORDABLE for the student/family?

  2. Does it APPEAL to the student, both in terms of quality of life and long-term objectives?

  3. Is the student ADMISSIBLE to the institution? Admissible means that the applicant’s academic metrics generally align with those of the existing student body.

That’s it. If every school on the list passes those tests, the student is teed up for a good year and an even better future.

Now, all you need is good information.

I created the Moore College Dataset 2022 so that families can keep their student’s best interests front and center as the application cycle rolls along. By relying on data to answer the three questions above - AFFORDABILITY, APPEAL, and ADMISSIBILITY - “fit” becomes tangible and good decisions can be made.

With this blog post we’ll address the first first step in your process - AFFORDABILITY:


The college search process should start with cost, for the simple reason that it’s going to be a big factor at some point in the process, and every family needs to know where their student lies on the financial spectrum. Fortunately, Your student’s net price at a given institution is probably the most predictable element of the three A’s.

If you want to be an expert on affordability and financial aid before diving into my data, I recommend checking out Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s resources at For the purposes of using my data, however, I’ll keep it short:

One question is central to everything else: Can you afford what colleges say you can afford?

You need to know your student’s EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. Use this estimator for a quick best-guess of how much you can afford on paper. That’s a general guesstimate for all colleges. To see the EFC at a specific college, visit its net price calculator.

If your EFC is greater than or equal to a school’s sticker price, then your student doesn’t display “need.” If your EFC is less than the price, then need is demonstrated and is equal to the gap between your EFC and the price - your family may receive financial aid.

Back to the central question: Are you willing and able to pay the amount shown as your student’s EFC? If so, great. Just make sure your student applies to colleges which either cost less than your EFC or meet a high percentage of a student’s need. If you cannot afford your EFC, you are in good company. I think most of us look at our EFCs and gulp. You can save yourself and your student a world of stress and heartache by leaning into your financial situation and guiding your student to choose schools which either fit into your budget or which offer robust, dependable non-need-based scholarships.

WE KNOW WHICH COLLEGES OFFER NON-NEED-BASED (MERIT) SCHOLARSHIPS AND WHICH DO NOT, particularly for those colleges that complete the annual Common Data Set survey. Last week’s Viz of the Week concentrated on the colleges that restrict their financial packages to students with demonstrated need. The viz we’re releasing tomorrow Thursday August 11th focuses on the colleges that give the most non-need-based aid.

To be sure, it is easier and more comfortable to adopt the mindset of, “Let’s let her apply everywhere and see which place offers the best deal.” As reasonable as it sounds, that approach is doubly problematic. “Let’s wait and see” does not make the budget for you, and it prevents families from finding the scholarships that may have been waiting for the student all along.

The majority of families do qualify for need-based aid, and my dataset includes helpful information for that situation as well. I include the average net price by income level (up to $110K/year, the highest threshold set by the government. Also, most colleges in our dataset report the percentage of a student’s need which they meet through grants and other kinds of aid.

Whew! I know it can feel overwhelming…but if you take this first step now, you will have the comfort of knowing that you are getting your student on the right track from the outset.

The next blog post: Step 2 - Admissibility


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