College search: finding your best school
Before you choose: Examine all financial aid componentsUnfortunately, says Wes Habley, ACT's principal associate, students often choose the least expensive school, even though it is not necessarily the best institutional fit.
Students who receive financial aid generally experience less financial stress and have lower dropout rates than those who receive none, reports the ACT.
Compare the net cost over four years for all schools you are considering and, "Don't confuse loans as free money -- they need to be repaid," says Roger Dooley, co-founder of CollegeConfidential.com.
Consider debt-to-potential-income ratios. The average student loan debt among graduating seniors, excluding PLUS loans, was $23,186, according to recent figures calculated by FinAid.org.
"A good rule of thumb is that a student's total education debt should not exceed their expected starting salary," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. Says Dooley, "You don't want to saddle students with many years of debt -- particularly in many categories of degrees where the student isn't likely to earn a lot of money."
Recap: The problems
School selectivity issues
-- An ACT survey shows 72 percent of students in "highly selective" schools -- those with the majority of freshmen in the top 10 percent of their high school class -- graduated within four years, as compared with 49 percent at "selective" schools; 31 percent at "traditional" schools and only 30 percent at "open enrollment" schools.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »