MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A so-called “shopping sheet” is changing the way New Jersey college students anticipate expenses.

And in the Garden State, it’s now required by law, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.

Montclair State University was bustling during lunch time on Thursday. Students CBS2’s Meg Baker spoke with said the most important thing they look for in a college is not only the major they wanted but also affordability.

“In the transfer process it was definitely the number one factor, like looking for like costs of education and things like that,” said Greg Hampson of Summit.

“There was definitely a barrier with the schools I wanted to go to. Studying music, a lot of the programs are pretty expensive. I want to spend my money somewhere where I’m going to learn a lot,’ added Jac Powers of Hazlet.

READ MOREExpert Tips On How To Get The Most Out Of College Aid, Students Loans And Scholarships

New Jersey now requires all higher education institutions to provide a shopping sheet to all incoming and enrolled students that lays out what they will owe annually. You should expect to see this during the application process and in advance of the next school year.

“We want to prevent students from falling into that student loan debt trap,” state Sen. Shirley Turner said.

Turner sponsored the bill, promoting transparency.

“So often, colleges pull what you call the ‘bait and switch.’ They will give the students the grants and scholarships in their first year. Then throughout the four years they replace those grants and scholarships with student loans,” Turner said.

READ MOREStudy: Some Grads Would Spend A Week In Jail To Erase Student Loan Debt

Montclair State has been using a shopping sheet since 2019. Jim Anderson, the school’s director of financial aid, said the  simple format helps families better plan ahead and compare schools.

“Historically, colleges have had their own financial aid award letters, in lots of different formats. Often times it’s very confusing for students to get to the bottom line, which is what’s their out of pocket,” Anderson said. “It provides estimated costs based on their intended status, commuter or resident student, and provides grants the student is expected to receive and does the subtotal. It allows them to see what their out of pocket is going to be.”

The sheet also provides other consumer information like graduation rate, which helps students further assess where they want to attend.

The average student loan debt in the United States is more than $42,000, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team