Those tools include the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, in which 2,000 participating institutions including the University of Delaware and Delaware State University offer to help students compare schools based on the financial aid package they receive.

“It tries to simplify the information students receive about the costs and ancillary aid students receive so they can lay down the shopping sheet of UD against the shopping sheet of another institution and make that informed decision in a way that clearly breaks out aid they don’t have to pay back, and loan borrowing,” Lucier said.

A similar tool all colleges and universities are now required to provide on their websites is a net price calculator, which estimates a student’s eligibility for financial aid and all expenses associated with getting a degree, not just tuition and fees.

While those tools can help, figuring out exactly how much a school will cost and how much monthly student loan payments will be still requires a lot of research and planning.

Lucier said the University of Delaware received close to 20,000 applications over the past year, while less than 4,000 visits were logged to its net price calculator.

“When you’re 17 you’re not always in the best position to make plans,” Best said. “If you go to the student union on any college campus, you’ll see a card table set up where banks will give you a free dictionary or a free T-shirt for signing up for one of their credit cards. Continue reading