Ill-timed, late season Nor’easters notwithstanding, this is my favorite time of the year. There is nothing in sport quite like the annual college basketball lovefest widely known as March Madness. For two weeks, my two passions – higher education and basketball – converge to bring us the most unpredictable, entertaining and exciting collection of highly competitive basketball games, 67 in total.

Over the next 20+ days, college teams across the country will compete at the ‘Big Dance’ for the ultimate prize: an entry into the Final Four and a chance at the National Championship. For me, this is not only the greatest sporting event of the year, it can also be the most financially beneficial for my students (and not because of any office pool).

See, every year I take the entire 68 team bracket and apply my simple, geeky, and entirely non-basketball financial aid formulas to determine the winners of each individual contest.

And while I understand that there are sports purists out there who are reading this with eyes askance and brows furrowed, I’ve actually done quite well in my annual March pool – and more importantly – our students have done really well with their April scholarships.

I mean seriously, what the heck is a professional ‘bracketologist’ anyway and how often have they actually helped you win your office pool, let alone save you thousands on college? Can they really predict, with confidence, who will win between say, #7 St. Mary’s and #10 VCU? I doubt it – Frankly, I doubt they can even name a player on either team??!!??

But I can tell you this with 100% confidence: St. Mary’s (that’s St. Mary’s College of California – the Gaels, for the casual fan) claims to meet 62% of a family’s demonstrated financial need and they graduate 56% of their students in 4 years. These may not be astounding numbers, but they’re better than VCU’s 53% generosity and 34% 4-year graduation rate.

My University Generosity formula may not make it on ESPN, but it has produced some real gems over the years. Remember Davidson’s run back in 2009? Sure, they had Steph Curry, but nobody knew who he was back then. How about when Ivy Champ Cornell went to the Sweet 16 in 2010, upending perennial studs Temple and Wisconsin along the way? I called both of ’em.

So, who will wear Cindarella’s slippers this year? Will it be a perrenially-generous basketball powerhouse like Duke or a generous newcomer like Northwestern? (Click here to download the complete 2017 University Generosity Tournament Bracket.)

If you’re struggling to figure out which school to choose in the near-equal 8-9 matchup; if you’re frustrated that the Intern in Accounting always wins because she selects the teams with the best colors; if you cannot name a single player on any team, then try my approach. At the very least, it’ll give you a window into which colleges are most likely to meet your financial needs with five-figure scholarships or grants AND graduate your child in 4, not 6 years. Now that’s a return on an investment I can get behind.

So, with that said, here are a few intriguing matchups that I’m highlighting this year:

1. In the first round, Vanderbilt takes on first-time dancer Northwestern. Both schools boast ridiculously competitive 11% admit rates, and both meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need. Vanderbilt’s slightly higher 4-year graduation rate (88% to 85%) will make the Wildcats first appearance a one-and-done experience. Take Vandy.

2. Notre Dame vs. Princeton: This is another brainiac first round matchup. Notre Dame is one of my perennial favorites, which are strong words coming from a Miami fan. Still, I cannot deny their strong financial aid record (100%) and their impressive 91% graduation rate. And their kids are pretty smart, too. They get the slight edge over Princeton because their graduation rate is a mere 1 point higher. Go Irish!

3. In the Elite 8 I have Duke over Virginia. Both schools meet 100% of demonstrated need, and both graduate 87% in 4 years. I went with Duke because, well, they’re Duke. My tiebreaker is on-court performance, and Duke beats UVA any day in my book. An ACC toss-up!

4. The “First Four” game between USC and Providence has some intrigue. While USC meets 100% of demonstrated need, Providence isn’t too bad at 87%, and they boast a 4-year graduation rate of 83%. I went with USC and even have them beating SMU (90% need and 67% 4-year grad rate) and then Baylor, but then losing to Duke in the Sweet 16. Trojans are my dark horse.

5. The best conference represented, by far, is the ACC. On this point Dickie V. and I will both agree but perhaps for different reasons. My Final Four is an all-ACC event, with Miami sneaking in there only because of recent financial aid performance. As a whole, this conference contains the best collection of top colleges with histories of generosity and 4-year graduation rates. Only the Ivy League is better, but they only send one team to the Big Dance each year.

** Click here to download the complete 2017 University Generosity Tournament Bracket. **

The real point here has nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with how you plan for your child’s college education. Just as some schools may be stronger at basketball, there are schools that have better financial aid policies, merit scholarships, and will do a better job graduating its students in 4 years so that you’re not paying for a 5th or (gasp!) a 6th year.

Too often without proper guidance, we see students select colleges based solely on brand name, performance on a field, or an unexpectedly successful run at the Big Dance, er, the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. And too many people – including parents, neighbors, friends, relatives, the clerk at the grocery store – are complicit in this process – and only herald schools they know because of how they play on the hardwood in March or the gridiron in the fall. If you’re a longtime reader then you know that this is both short-sighted and expensive.

College is a business and athletics are a big part of that business, bringing in millions of dollars to the school. A ticket to the NCAA and subsequent success on the national stage might lead to a surge in applications for years to come, but it says nothing about the type of education, environment, cost and outcome that will suit your child’s needs.

If you want to have fun in March and learn something that can translate to real dollars in May of your child’s senior year (when you’ll have to plunk down a deposit), then you should check out my 11th University Generosity bracket. It includes a breakdown of the financial need met and graduation rates at each of the 68 schools dancing this year.

You can also search our full proprietary college database (with more than 1900 colleges) — and save all the data in your ‘locker’ – inside your member area. Simply log in here to access the information.

Not yet a member?

You can click here for more information and to enroll at no risk.

Once you do, you’ll get much more than an NCAA Generosity bracket, you’ll get instant access to the proprietary college databases, courses, college cost forecasting tools and live coaching that has helped shave an average of $28,000 PER YEAR from the college bill for more than 1100 families (and counting).

I look forward to seeing you there. Til then, enjoy the games this month, and may the best, most generous (ACC) team win!

Regards,

Peter

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