It's college application season. High school seniors all over the country are busy writing essays, answering questions, getting ready to send off their applications if they haven't already done so.
For the undecided, or for those wavering on which school to choose, a new website called College Scorecard is a handy tool.
"The college application process is so stressful, but this does help a lot, it helps early in the process because then you can narrow down your schools," said Lauren Liu, a senior at Everglades High School in Miramar.
She and her classmate, Chad Clarke, are high achievers with their sights set on the best universities. On a recent morning, they sat down together and explored College Scorecard.
"It's really helped me to decide where I'm going to apply to," Clarke said.
The federal government launched College Scorecard in September. It doesn't rank colleges. It does provide tons of data on more than 7,000 institutions of higher learning.
The website shows, for example, the average annual cost of a school for a family with income under $100,000. It provides every college's graduation rate and the range of SAT and ACT scores of their students. It even shows the average salary of students six to ten years after they graduate.
"Any avenue that can give these kids more information, it's a good thing," said Everglades High's college adviser, Margie Gitten.
Mandee Adler agrees. She's an expert on college admissions, running a company called International College Counselors. Adler said College Scorecard is especially useful for families on a tight budget.
"I pulled up a couple of different schools and in some cases, the expected salary might be exactly the same but the cost might be 7 or 8 times more for school X versus school Y," Adler said.
For instance, the website shows public universities in Florida, such as FIU, FAU, FSU, UCF and UF are huge bargains, delivering a lot of educational bang for the buck.
"Just because something's private doesn't make it better, just like because it's public doesn't make it worse, and it provides a really easy way for families to compare," Adler explained.
College Scorecard also shows a reality in today's society: Graduates in high-tech fields make more money sooner than those who graduate with liberal arts degrees. Schools like MIT, Georgia Tech, and FIT in Melbourne show noticeably higher salaries for recent graduates.
"What that speaks to is your major is as important as the school you attend when it comes to salaries," Adler said.
So College Scorecard can be a reality check, but it also shows how universities with huge endowments give a lot of need-based financial aid. If your family makes less than $100,000, Harvard is only about $2,000 more expensive than the University of Florida.
Chad Clarke said he was surprised by the test scores he saw at some of the Ivy League schools. Pleasantly surprised.
"It reaffirmed that I can definitely go to UC Berkeley, which is my dream school and it gave me hope that I can go to Columbia," Clarke said.
Of course, students have to qualify academically. College Scorecard can't fix a student's credentials, but it can point confused students in the right direction to a bright future.