Education

Finance 101: College Abacus helps students figure out what schools they can afford

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College is expensive, and College Abacus wants to make sure students and their families are getting the best deal.

The company has built a free financial aid calculator that compares projected financial aid packages across schools and identify institutions that are within students’ budgets. Today it released a new premium product called Abacus 100, which sizes up to 100 personalized financial aid estimates at a time

Cofounder and CEO Abigail Seldin described College Abacus as the “Kayak of college financial aid.”

“For most families, the cost of college drives decisions about where to apply, where to enroll, or even whether to attend at all, Seldin said to VentureBeat. “College education is the most expensive purchase most families make, but its true cost often remains a mystery until students have applied and received acceptance letters from a small set of schools.  College Abacus provides the first challenge to the old system, which told students ‘Apply now and we’ll deliver cost information later, if at all. Oh, and don’t forget your application fee!’”

College application fees can cost as much as $80. For students who are applying to a number of schools and/or have a limited budget, these fees add up. And student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion in the U.S. and the cost of tuition is rising. College has become so expensive it is out of reach for many families, and financial aid is the single most important deciding factor for many when choosing a school.

Federal law requires all college and universities to maintain net price calculators on their websites so students can asses their costs before applying. These generate the total price for attending that school, but Seldin said that they are difficult to find on most college websites and are time-consuming to use.

College Abacus’ goal is to correct this “information asymmetry” and give students that information up front. Its calculator provides students with the same estimates they could receive on individual college websites, but it aims to be easier to use and provide more transparency.

Abacus 100′s comparison feature is key for students trying to weigh their options. It has data on over 4,000 schools and helps students narrow their applications down to colleges they can actually afford. It costs $75, roughly the price of an application to Harvard.

Seldin cofounder the company with her husband Whitney Haring-Smith. The two met at Oxford where they were both Rhodes Scholars. They founded College Abacus in 2012 and was one of the winners of the Gates Foundation-funded College Knowledge Challenge. The challenge awarded $100,000 grants to companies building tools that could increase college access for low-income and middle-class students.

College Abacus is one of many companies toiling away to make higher education more accessible. A whole slew of startups including Commonbond, Instagrad, Tuition.io, StudentLoanHero, Vittana, Piglt, SoFi and others are taking innovative approaches to funding for education.

College Abacus is based in Washington D.C and has raised $500,000 from friends and family (and the Gates Foundation).

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