Gapping is an informal financial aid term. It has to do with colleges offering less financial aid than they believe you need. After you fill out your FAFSA form (and possibly your CSS Profile), you will get a dollar amount called your E.F.C., or Expected Family Contribution. This is how much the government formula says your family should be expected to pay for college. The cost of a university, minus the EFC, is your need. If a university offers you less than your need in financial aid, then there is a gap. They’ve gapped you. You’ve been gapped. This is what gapping is all about.
About two weeks ago, Google announced they are severely enhancing their search tool to give you lots of information about colleges when you search for one. So if you do a Google search, for example, on SMU, then you’ll get several categories of data on SMU up at the top of the results page. They pull data from large government databses to get you all the relevant information—including average cost after finicial aid and where the school appears in a lot of different ranking systems.
So what’s the big deal? Google gives you results search? Isn’t that what Google always does?
Partly, yes, it’s not a big deal that Google gives you information. But here’s what different: they give you a lot of easy-to-read information right at the top of your screen (it’s fully rolled out for your phone screen, and will eventually make it onto desktop as well). The information comes from reputable sources—it’s data, not advertising or opinion. And it’s all the same information for every four-year school in the U.S.
So the first thing that comes to mind is that Google now competes with College Board’s Big Future and US News and World Reports. It’s a great, free resource for gathering information about schools. It’s professional and reliable. For this basic function, you might stop using Big Future. (If your school offers Naviance or College Greenlight, you may not use any of these. But my experience has taught me that those get ignored a lot by students.
There’s one major thing that Google’s enhanced search doesn’t seem to do that both Big Future and US News do, and that’s use a filter system where you can put in your test scores and preferences to get a list of possible matches. And if you sign up, both Big Future and US News will let you save your info and search results.
Also, at least so far, the “similar colleges” list doesn’t seem to be that great. I searched SMU, Southwestern University, and University of Texas at Dallas (because those are schools I’ve attended). For all, the listed similar colleges are just geographically close, not necessarily similar at all. I imagine as more people use Google it will track what they searach and imrpove the results on this. But it isn’t there yet.
Another advantage that Google has over the other sites—which some people find creepy but others see as normal—is that Google is built on targeted advertising. So the more you search schools on Google and it figures out what you’re looking for, the more it can sell advertising to similar schools who will try to put their name up in front of you. It may take some time—even a few years—before it’s got enough data and establsihed advertisers to put all that together. But it could happen quick. If your internet is already good at seeimg to know what you want before you realize you want it, then soon this might be true of colleges, too.
But please remember an important thing: if you’re interested in a colllege, you need to spend a lot of time on the school’s website. If they send you an email, click on the link! Google isn’t the only site that keeps track of their visitors. One of the primary ways that colleges guage demonstrated interest is to track how much time you spend on their site and which pages you visit. So do some searching on Google...or Big Future...or US News. But remember that you might have a lot to gain from also searching the colleges’ sites as well.
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Full disclosre: I have several friends who work for Google. I haven’t discussed this with them, but I’m on vacation and will visit them this weekend. If they give me any additional info on the new college search, I’ll pass it along.
If you're reading this, you probably already have college admissions on your mind. But now it's official! By a Presidential Proclamation, November 2016 is now National College Application Month.