If you’ve been reading this for a while, you probably know I’m a huge fan of College Navigator as an information source. It’s run by the National Center for Education Statistics and has some information that any prospective student should be aware of. Last week I mentioned the loan default rate by school. Another affordability-related topic that prospective students should consider is the student body’s borrowing rate– also available on College Navigator.

You can find a school’s borrowing rate (note: this is only for federal student loans) by searching the school and then expanding the Financial Aid tab. Since not all students borrow every year, look at the “All Undergraduate Students” section to get a better representation of the full picture.

At this school, for example, 14% of first-year students took out federal student loans; 17% of the entire student body did so. (This particular school is one that “meets the full demonstrated financial need of every student.” I don’t mean this as a criticism; families need to be aware that “demonstrated financial need” is the difference between your EFC as calculated by the FAFSA or PROFILE and the school’s cost of attendance. Many families still need to borrow just to come up with their EFC.)

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Something to factor in: the school’s demographics will impact the borrowing rate. A school that admits a high percentage of students from lower-earning households will have a higher borrowing rate. The school’s Pell grant percentage tends to be somewhat indicative of that so it should be compared to the overall borrowing rate. For example, a school with a lower percent of students receiving Pell grants that still has a high rate of borrowing is most likely not particularly affordable. For comparison purposes, in the 2016-2017 school year 30% of college students nationwide borrowed through one of the federal student loan programs.