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Leverage the Free US Census Tool: How Cool!

June 17, 2024
Joe Corbett
Product Marketing Manager

In the vibrant town of Learningville stood a small yet formidable institution known as Knowledge Beacon. This school was renowned for its dynamic and comprehensive educational program. Mrs. Marsh, the financial aid director, had noticed that the school catered primarily to two extremes: families who paid full tuition and those who relied heavily on financial aid. She was concerned that they were not doing a good enough job reaching out to those in the middle-income ranges, who could afford to pay some tuition but would also need some aid.  Mrs. Marsh was ready to act — she had a good understanding of the local neighborhoods within commuting distance to Knowledge Beacon, but a pressing question remained: where would she find these middle-income families?

Census Mapping Tool

Understanding the demographic and economic landscape of your school's catchment area is crucial for your school’s enrollment strategy and for helping you make informed financial aid decisions. One powerful resource that can help financial aid directors gain these insights is the US Census Bureau's online exploration and mapping tool. This tool provides access to a wealth of census data, including household income, housing cost, population trends, and demographics such as race and ethnicity.

Let’s look at an example. The Census Bureau's mapping tool, powered by the American Community Survey’s annual data estimates, offers a user-friendly way to visualize and compare household income data across different zip codes. This tool can provide insights into the distribution of family incomes in your area, helping to inform your enrollment strategy.*

*Please note that census survey data is released with a 1-2 year delay. These data are still useful, but they are viewed as a general estimate rather than an exact figure.

Steps to Use The Census Mapping Tool:

  1. Go to
  2. Search for Income: Enter “income” into the search bar.
  3. Select the topic: You’ll see many different types of census data available.  Select “S1901: Income in the past 12 months.”
  4. Filter by Geography: Click on “geography” on the sidebar and select “Zip Code Tabulation Area.” For this example, select “All 5-digit ZIP Code Tabulation Areas fully/partially within [your state]”. There are plenty of other geographies to use if you’d rather look by the city, county or other level.
  5. Switch to Map View: Switch to map view by clicking “Maps” on the navigation bar at the top of the census window. Alternatively, you can download your data to Microsoft Excel if you’d like to analyze it independently.
  6. Specify Your Data: You’ll now see an interactive map of the area you selected. Click the carrot to the left of the “select” option to see a drop-down of variables you can select. 
  7. Change “Households” to “Families”: The Census Bureau refers to a household as all people who occupy the same housing unit; so two single roommates would count as a household.  A family is defined as a group of two or more related people.  This is the more relevant data for schools.

From here you can use the map to compare different zip codes in your area. You can take screenshots for visual data representation, note down zip codes that could capture middle-income families, or export the data to Excel for further analysis or graph creation.


Whether you're assessing the income levels of families in your current catchment area or identifying new neighborhoods for potential outreach, census tools offer the essential data you need to enhance your school's outreach strategy. Understanding these demographics allows you to align your marketing efforts, financial aid policies, and community engagement initiatives effectively, ensuring that you are reaching and supporting the families who can benefit most from your educational offerings.

Interested in an alternative method for collecting this data?  Read our blog “The AI Advantage: Using ChatGPT for Targeted Recruitment” to learn how to quickly pull similar data using artificial intelligence (AI) through ChatGPT.








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