Seattle's three community colleges are expecting a wave of new students to enroll when the colleges become tuition-free for all Seattle public high school graduates in 2020. A new tool will help prospective students figure out what they want to study.

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Starting with the class of 2020, students in all of Seattle’s 17 public high schools will be able to attend Seattle community colleges tuition-free.

Parents and students are now wondering: What types of degrees and certificates can you earn in community college, and what jobs can you get with those credentials?

The Seattle Colleges — the city’s community colleges — are helping to answer those questions with a new, web-based tool that guides students through their options.

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“We know that for a lot of students, especially young students, picking a major can be pretty overwhelming,” said John Lederer, the executive dean of career/workforce education at North Seattle College. “We wanted to find a way to simplify that process.”

First, a recap of the tuition-free program: It’s part of a larger education levy that voters overwhelmingly approved in November. Graduates of six Seattle public schools (Ingraham, Garfield, Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Rainier Beach and West Seattle) are already part of a program called the 13th Year Scholarship, which allows them to go to specific community colleges for one year tuition-free.

The levy expands the program to the remainder of the city’s high schools in 2020, gives students two years of college, and lasts for seven years. It’s called Seattle Promise.

The new tool,, guides students through all 225 of the certificate and degree programs offered by Seattle Colleges’ three campuses — North, Central and South. It breaks programs down into eight areas of study, or career clusters.

The tool starts by asking students to select a broad career path.

For example, the business and accounting path shows a list of 20 programs offered at the schools, from accounting to residential and commercial property management. Users can click on the radio buttons on the sidebar to locate programs by campus, find certificates that can lead straight to a job, and see which courses have flexible schedules — nights, weekends and online classes — to accommodate a student who’s working his or her way through school.

A student who’s interested in the skilled trades can explore careers in carpentry, construction, welding, automotive technology and engine repair. The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) path shows careers in programming, computer-aided design, engineering and information technology, to name a few. Some programs lead to a two-year associate degree that’s designed to allow a student to easily transfer into a four-year college or university.

There’s also a link to labor market information that allows a student to see how much these careers pay in the Seattle area, and take a look at current job postings.

In addition to showing the career path, the tool gives prospective students a list of next steps they’ll need to take when they find something they’re interested in, Lederer said. And the tool is meant to guide any Seattle Colleges student, including those returning to college later in life.

Although Seattle graduates will be able to go to school for up to two years tuition-free, that doesn’t mean somebody isn’t paying the bill for Seattle Promise. The levy will cost the homeowner of a median assessed property of $655,000 an average of $248 a year. About 6 percent of that money, or $15 a year for the owner of that median property, will be used to fund Seattle Promise.

Seattle Promise is known as a last-dollar scholarship program — students must first apply for federal and state financial aid, and the scholarship will pick up any part of the expense that’s not covered. (Students who qualify for little or no aid will be the primary beneficiaries.)

Taxpayers already subsidize financial aid in a number of ways: Through federal taxes, which pay for the Pell Grant program, which provided $28.2 billion nationwide to about 7 million recipients in 2017-18; and through Washington’s two primary financial aid programs, College Bound and State Need Grant, which have a combined budget of $350 million for fiscal year 2019.

Also, $1.47 billion, or 3 percent of the state’s $45.2 billion biennial budget, went to support Washington community and technical colleges in 2017-19.